Federal judge approves Cleveland police reform agreement

AP News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 1:21 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal judge on Friday approved what is hoped to be a landmark agreement between Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the city's troubled police department.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. said at a hearing that police officers and citizens alike should embrace the agreement as a means to keep the city safe. Oliver spent about an hour questioning attorneys for both sides on different facets of the agreement, which was reached last month after five months of negotiation.

Oliver said police officers should not want the public to view them as the "enemy." He noted that there's a deep mistrust of police in some black and minority communities and that police officers, prosecutors and judges have all taken an oath to uphold the constitution.

"It imposes a special obligation on us to the public," Oliver said.

The city and DOJ agreed to create the agreement, called a consent decree, after the DOJ issued a report in December that said an 18-month investigation had found a pattern and practice of Cleveland police officers using excessive force and violating people's civil rights. The report detailed incidents in which handcuffed suspects were repeatedly shocked with stun guns and a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed black suspects after a high-speed chase.

Now that Oliver has signed the agreement, the city and DOJ must within 90 days hire an independent monitoring team that will measure how the numerous elements of the consent decree are implemented. Oliver acknowledged that it will be expensive and said his research has found that the cost of implementing a consent decree can range from around $900,000 to more than $2 million a year.

The monitor will report to the judge, and Oliver emphasized that he would expect the city and DOJ to find another team if he decides that the monitor that's been hired is not doing its job. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon told Oliver that the monitor was expected to remain in place for at least five years. The agreement requires Cleveland to show that it has sustained reforms for two years before the judge can release the city from the monitor's oversight.

Oliver seemed especially interested in the section of the agreement that requires officers to receive more training on use of force and bias-free policing.

"I certainly hope we can create the goodwill necessary to make sure this carried out and enforced," Oliver said.