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Cleveland may be losing ground on police reforms, new report finds

 A person walks past the Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
A person walks past the Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.

A new report from the Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC) finds the city has completed about 39% of the requirements of its federal consent decree.

The CPC distilled the police monitor’s last assessment of the police department’s progress toward completing the consent decree, the 12th Semiannual Report, into a percentage of reforms completed.

Cleveland officials have said they are close to completing the agreement’s requirements, arguing in public and at hearings in federal court that they’ve completed most of the 2015 agreement’s requirements.

The city has shown a reduction in use of force incidents. It has completed most of the policy changes and training development required by the consent decree. Officials have argued they are meeting community engagement requirements under the decree.

But, said CPC interim executive director Jason Goodrick, if the city wants to get out of the consent decree quickly it needs to be more transparent.

“Put your data out there,” Goodrick said. “Put your work out there. The efficacy of all these policies, we need to be able to have outside, independent people look at that raw data and draw the same conclusions that the city is arguing.”

The CPC’s report is based on a twice-a-year evaluation by the police monitor. In that evaluation, the monitor lists each of the numbered requirements found in the consent decree and rates the city’s progress as “non-compliant,” “partially compliant,” “generally compliant” or “operationally compliant.”

After that evaluation is released, the CPC assigns a numeric value from 0 to 3 based on the rating assigned by the monitor to each requirement. Some sections in the consent decree have fewer requirements than others and so those were given additional weight in the calculation. Out of a possible total score of 1000, CPC found a total rating of 390, or 39%.

Both the monitor and city have criticized this method of evaluating the city’s progress, calling it oversimplified.

Goodrick said it’s one way for the public to gauge the city’s progress.

“Historically, we’ve had some citizens who say they don’t understand the system fully, so what we try to do is just put a simple dashboard to it,” said Goodrick.

The 12th Semiannual Report, which covered the city’s work between July and the end of the year, indicated that Cleveland actually lost ground in the second half of last year, from 42.4% compliance after the 11th Semiannual Report.

The federal judge overseeing the consent decree can end the agreement or move the city into the next phase with less oversight by the monitor and federal court, before reaching 100% compliance.

Judge Solomon Oliver indicated at the most recent status hearing in federal court in March that the city is not ready to move ahead to the next phase or end the decree.

One of the areas that lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the monitoring team focused on was police accountability. The CPC report supports the perception of backsliding in that area.

The report found a 3% drop in compliance with accountability requirements in the consent decree. The monitor and DOJ criticized the city for allowing officer misconduct investigations to drag on for too long and for failing to fill positions in charge of internal affairs, which investigates potentially criminal misconduct by officers, and at the Office of Professional Standards, which investigates civilian complaints against officers for more than a year.

Goodrick agreed that officer accountability is among the most glaring shortcomings.

“No matter what number you get to, if you’re not addressing your integrity issues I don’t think you can ever be compliant with the consent decree,” Goodrick said.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.