Cleveland, Justice Dept. policing talks to start

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2014 3:08 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — Negotiations between Cleveland and the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that the police department has a pattern of excessive force are expected to begin next week.

The city law director told a City Council committee on Wednesday that Mayor Frank Jackson's administration is analyzing the Justice Department report made public last week that leveled harsh criticism at officers, supervisors and the administration for how the department is run and how poorly allegations of excessive force are investigated.

Barbara Langhenry said Wednesday that the city will work the Justice Department to address legitimate issues raised in the report.

"Cleveland has an opportunity at this time to honestly confront disharmony with the goal of creating a well-functioning city," Langhenry said.

The Justice Department is seeking an agreement that will lead to a court-ordered consent decree and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee reforms of the police department.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach told the council committee on Wednesday that the consent decree will help ensure that reforms are comprehensive and will be sustained over time. The Justice Department opened an investigation into the use of deadly force practices by Cleveland police in 2002, resulting in a voluntary, one-year agreement in 2004 that was supposed to address police training and the civilian complaint process. It's unusual for the Justice Department to return to a city for a second police investigation, Dettelbach said.

Dettelbach insisted that the investigation that began in March 2013 was not linked to any one incident, but the 58-page report referred to a November 2012 car chase that ended with officers firing 137 rounds into a car and killing two unarmed suspects. The police officer who fired the last 15 rounds faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, and five supervisors face charges of dereliction of duty.

The Justice Department investigation also found instances when officers punched or used Tasers on people who were handcuffed in apparent retaliation for what they had said or did. The report said officers are poorly trained in subduing suspects and that some do not appear to know how to use their firearms.

Dettelbach emphasized that the city needs to create a culture of community policing, a policy that calls for officers to engage rather than provoke people, something he said will make residents and police officers safer.

"Community policing is not sufficiently embedded in the Cleveland police department," Dettelbach said.

He did laud the city for its work creating a new community policing plan.

Councilman Mike Polensek later responded that he'd not heard about such a plan.

"I don't believe there is any community policing taking place here," Polensek said.