In recent years, there has been much speculation regarding the questionable and troubling behavior exhibited by the Cleveland police department. There have been an alarming number of reports of police brutality, unnecessary use of deadly force, and incredibly dangerous and unprofessional behavior. Catching the attention of the United States Justice Department, the department has now been the subject of a total overhaul, including:
- Retraining of the police force, from patrol officers to sergeants to captains
- An update in police technology, both to solve crimes and hold officers accountable
- New training for incidences with the mentally ill
- Officers working more closely with the city’s civilians
Though the plan still needs to be approved, there are high hopes that this settlement will not only potentially save lives and create more police accountability, but will make Cleveland an example for proper police behavior. This sample essay explores the changes and how they impact the department.
Cleveland Police Department: A History of brutality
The Cleveland Police Department has been receiving a steady stream of negative attention for the last few years due to lack of discretion during policing incidents. They have been allowed to get away with reckless and irresponsible behavior with relatively no accountability. During the Attorney General’s investigation, there were nearly six hundred use-of-force occurrences from 2010 to 2013 (Weathers 2014). Several incidences were particularly jarring and worrisome to both the public and officials.
Shot while being handcuffed
Another instance of question behavior on the behalf of the Cleveland police occurred when officers saw a man walking with an open container of beer. The man refused when the officers ordered him to stop, and he walked to a nearby porch and put down his alcohol before walking towards the squad car. One of the officers claimed to have seen a weapon on the man’s waistband and yelled, “gun.” According to eye witnesses, the man put his hands in the air and told the police that he had a license for concealed carry. While one officer put one of the man’s hands behind his back to handcuff him, the man lowered his other hand, prompting another officer to shoot him in the stomach (Weather 2014). Despite contrary accounts from eight eye witnesses, the officer maintained that the man was reaching for his gun, though the other officer told the man to lower his hand to be handcuffed. This exhibits a huge lack of professionalism and a serious need for evaluation and retraining.
Attack on a juvenile
There was an incident in which a thirteen-year-old boy was arrested for shoplifting. While handcuffed, a three-hundred-pound police officer punched the boy in the face approximately three to four times, despite being in the presence of other officers who simply stood by and watched (Weathers 2014). While the occurrence was reviewed by the officer’s supervisor, it was decided that, though the officer weighed three times as much as the suspect, who was unable to defend himself, his behavior was, “arguably the best response” (Weathers 2014). The supervisor noted that the boy had previously kicked the officer and attempted to flee from the police car. The official report concluded that the circumstances allowed for the use of force. Not only do the actions of the officer suggest the need for retraining, but the fact that the supervisor felt the actions were justified call into question just how deep the unprofessionalism goes.
Shooting at the hostage
This was not the first time that higher-ranking officers exhibited questionable behavior. During an incident in 2013, a sergeant for the Cleveland police shot at a man as he ran in the street (Liebelson 2014). The man was not running from the police, however; he was running from a house where he had been held hostage by his kidnappers. The police were given information that two armed assailants had been holding people hostage. After surrounding the area, one victim escaped from the house and ran for freedom. Running from the house, wearing only boxer shorts, the man ran to another officer who said the man did not respond to an order to stop. The sergeant shot at the man twice, though thankfully, he missed both times. Despite the fact that the man was only wearing underwear and that no other officers reported seeing this, the sergeant claimed he believed the man had a weapon (Weathers 2014). This inappropriate use of deadly force was especially alarming because the sergeant should have known better than to act in the way that he did.
The U.S. Justice Department intervenes
These lapses in professionalism and better judgment inevitably caught the attention of the government. In early December of 2014, the Department of Justice announced plans to create an agreement that would implement monitoring of the Cleveland Division of Police, which would be enforceable by law. Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a press conference:
“Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be a genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve.” (Liebelson 2014).
Without confidence in the police, civilians are less likely to cooperate. Just as citizens needs the police to remain safe, police need the cooperation of citizens in order to more easily do their jobs. Holder made his announcement while visiting Cleveland in the wake of a Cleveland police officer shooting an unarmed child in November 2014. He attended meetings centered on rebuilding trust in law enforcement within the community. During his speech, Holder said that he, along with President Obama, believe that more can be done about the reoccurring instances of police brutality in the United States (such as the case of Michael Brown) (Liebelson 2014).
The United States Department of Justice has been investigating the Cleveland police department since early in 2013. In fact, their initial look into the department came at the request of Cleveland’s mayor Frank Jackson after officers fired almost one-hundred-forty bullets at two unarmed black suspects (Atassi 2015). The report from the Department of Justice stated that the Cleveland police fire their weapons carelessly, placing themselves and everyone else around them in danger. In one case, the report said, the police fired twenty-four rounds in a residential neighborhood during an incident in 2011 (Liebelson 2014). In another, an officer drew his gun while trying to apprehend an unarmed suspect and accidentally shot a bystander in the neck. Officers frequently fired at people who did not pose an immediate threat, as shown in the several cases discussed above.
Even more troubling was the fact that much of the questionable and alarming behavior was approved by higher-ranking officers. The statement from the Department of Justice reported:
“Each and every time we saw officers write that they had tased a handcuffed suspect, the use of force was approved up the chain of command.” (Liebelson 2014)
It is incredibly discouraging that, not only are officers making these dangerous and questionable decisions, but these decisions are supported and defended by superior officers. In one of the cases in which a handcuffed suspect was tasered, the suspect fell face-first onto the street:
“shattering four front teeth and causing facial contusions,” (Liebelson 2014).
The report also said that the culture created and propagated by the Cleveland police has promoted an us-against-them mentality, not only within the community towards the police but with the policy towards the citizens of the community. The Department of Justice felt that the behavior exhibited by the police reflects a war-like stance rather than a partnership with the community they serve and concluded that the Cleveland police:
“method of policing contributes to the community’s distrust and lack of respect for others,” (Liebelson 2014).
The actions of the Cleveland police officers have created a hostile and insecure environment within the community and the police department alike, creating an environment for increased violence against police officers.
The Justice Department’s plan
The Department of Justice created a settlement, which they outlined in one-hundred-and-five pages, that calls for new training and regulatory guidelines for the use of force on the job. In addition, the settlement called for more community policing, where officers work more closely in their neighborhoods with civilians, new machinery, and technology to be used to investigating allegations of police misconduct, and new training regarding racial tension and stereotyping, in addition to dealing with incidences with the mentally ill (Murphy 2015). While the plan still needs to be approved by a judge, officials involved are confident that the plan will pass and be successful. While the mayor of Cleveland hopes that this will make the city a shining example of police accountability and reform (Atassi 2015), United States Attorney General Steven M. Dettelbach expressed his belief that the reform “will help ensure the many brave men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police can do their jobs not only constitutionally, but also more safely and effectively” (“Cleveland Police, Feds Reach Deal on Use of Force”).
The plan put forth by the Justice Department forbids the use of force as retaliation or during verbal disputes with suspects and civilians. New training will include tactics for de-escalation in order to avoid the use of force when possible. In cases where the use of force is necessary, officers are now required to provide basic medical care until proper medical attention has arrived (Grossman 2015). The settlement also sought to strengthen existing decrees on accountability and to enhance them in order to create more responsibility. For example, the internal investigation unit will be monitored by the newly created Bureau of Integrity Control, which will be headed by a civilian who has neither served nor is currently serving as a police officer. In addition, every time an officer is forced to draw their weapon, the new rules dictate that they must document it (Grossman 2015).
- The new regulations seek, not only solutions to current problems but long-term solutions as well.
- The police department will also create reports to analyze trends in complaints against the department and otherwise.
- Another implantation of the new plan will be community policing.
The city must establish a panel of thirteen members who represent neighborhoods, law enforcement, and leaders of civil rights, business, philanthropic, and religious organizations. The goal of the group will be to review policy recommendations in the interest of civilians, in addition to discussing new police procedures. Also part of the plan for the police department are new regulations that prevent officers from stopping someone without having a specific and reasonable reason as to why they believe this person is suspicious in an effort to prevent racial profiling (Murphy 2015).
In terms of dealing with the mentally ill, the department will need to establish a committee consisting of officers, social workers, and mental health experts in order to ensure an environment that allows officers to enforce the law while also acting in the best interest of mentally ill suspects. On a more basic level, the department is being forced to increase the scope of police training, requiring new recruits to undergo a minimum of nine-hundred-and-sixty hours of training, while active officers must participate in an additional forty hours of training per year (Shaffer 2015). These new regulations and rules aim to improve the conditions within the city, the effectiveness of the police force, and the positivity of the department’s relationship with the public.
Summary of Cleveland incidents and new policies
The behavior of the Cleveland police department has been the cause for a lot of worry, fear, and anger for the past several years, both within the city and around the country. Recognizing this, the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation that led to the reform and retraining of the police department in Cleveland. Their plan to reform the police department in Cleveland includes updating police technology, an initiative to increase community policing, and special training regarding situations where officers may encounter racial profiling and the mentally ill. The plan is still awaiting approval, but the implantation of this proposal could make Cleveland an example for police accountability, in addition to helping save lives and protect the overall safety and well-being of civilians and police officers alike.
“Cleveland Police, Feds Reach Deal on Use of Force.” SFGate. Associated Press, 26 May 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.
Atassi, Leila. “Cleveland Consent Decree on Police Use of Force Could Define Mayor Frank Jackson’s Legacy (ANALYSIS).” Cleveland.com. Northeast Ohio Media Group, 31 May 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.
Liebelson, Dana. “Feds Find Shocking, Systemic Brutality, Incompetence In Cleveland Police Department.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 June 2015.
Murphy, Doyle. “Justice Department, Cleveland Reach Civil Rights Settlement.” NY Daily News. New York Daily News, 26 May 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.
Shaffer, Corey. “Cleveland And Justice Department Agree To Police Reforms.”PopularResistanceOrg. Cleveland.com, 27 May 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.
Weathers, Cliff. “6 Shockingly Brutal Incidents Revealed in Feds’ Scathing Report on Cleveland Police Department.” Alternet. Alternet, 05 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 June 2015.