Cleveland police car

Photo by Raymond Wambsgans/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This ain’t the Wild West, fellas.

The Cleveland Police Department has promised to stop bashing citizens with their sidearms, according to an agreement with the U.S. government.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) learned through a 21-month investigation that officers routinely used their firearms to bludgeon suspects. On occasion, the ‘buffaloing’ caused the officers’ weapons to discharge, according to a 58-page report released in December.

The DOJ further determined that Cleveland police unnecessarily applied deadly force in encounters with citizens on a routine basis. Tasers, chemical sprays, and fists were often used excessively or as a means of retaliation, the DOJ found. Excessive violence was also routinely used when officers were called to check on the welfare of a person who was mentally ill or in a crisis.

The Cleveland P.D.’s “poor and dangerous tactics,” the investigators wrote, “place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.” The mechanism for investigating use of force and civilian complaints was “broken.”

A consent decree was released on Tuesday following five months of negotiations between the city of Cleveland and the federal government. (The complete document can be read here.) 

Among a range of conditions, the agreement bans the use of retaliatory violence and requires officers to be trained in de-escalation tactics. The agreement will require Cleveland’s police force to reform its behavior, which it will document and report in a complete and thorough manner.

“This agreement gives us the structure now to really implement comprehensive reform,” Mayor Frank Jackson said at a press conference on Tuesday. “In addition, this agreement takes police reform to another level and will allow us to rapidly accelerate our program. It will also hold us to an implementation plan that will ensure success. We will have community policing as part of our DNA.”

In the next 90 days, the city will establish a Community Police Commission. The 13-member panel will be comprised of various civilian organizations representing civil-rights, religious, and business interests. Three of the seats will be held by the Cleveland police department associations, including Black Shield, an organization representing black officers.

Use of force is one of the primary issues to be addressed through the settlement. A “force investigation team” will be established to investigate and document every incident. The use of de-escalation tactics, whenever possible, are now mandatory.

Since the DOJ released its report in December, “more than 500 police officers have received crisis intervention training,” the mayor said on Tuesday. By the end of the year, every cop in Cleveland would be wearing a body camera, he added. “This will make the division of police in the city of Cleveland, the largest police force that have body cameras.”

Under the settlement, Cleveland P.D.’s internal affairs division will be moved under the newly established, civilian-run Bureau of Integrity Control. The head of this bureau will not be a former or current police officer. Annual reports analyzing trends in civilian complaints will be produced by the Office of Professional Standards, authorities from which will be required to reach out to those who filed them.

Cleveland has 180 days to put together a permanent group of police officers, social workers, and mental-health experts to address what the DOJ found to be deplorable standards for treatment of the mentally ill. 

The group, dubbed the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, will be responsible for regularly investigating Cleveland P.D. All of the department’s officers will receive additional welfare-check training, and select officers will be trained and deployed as specialists for encounters with civilians with mental illness.

Additionally, Cleveland P.D. will begin using new software that will help track civilian complaints and disciplinary actions. It will document use-of-force incidents, including injuries to suspects that occur after they’re taken into custody. It will also document any incidents in which the officers’ tamper with or fail to activate their body cameras. 

H/T New York Times | Photo by Raymond Wambsgans/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.