CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the city of Cleveland, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice (DOJ) calling for meaningful reforms within the Cleveland Police Department (CPD). The recommendations were in response to the DOJ’s recent findings on Cleveland police practices and its pending consent decree with the city.
“For years there have been reports of the excessive use of force by law enforcement against residents and worsening police-community relations,” said Christine Link, ACLU of Ohio executive director. “The Department of Justice’s investigation has shone a national spotlight on these considerable problems and provided the city with an opportunity for true police reform.”
Among the recommendations to be included in the consent decree, the ACLU has outlined four key reforms:
1. Increased Community Involvement
It is critical to engage Cleveland residents in the implementation of police reforms through the establishment of community advisory boards in each Cleveland precinct. Additionally, the creation of an overall board of community leaders, representing Cleveland’s diversity, is needed to help guide and advise city officials and federal monitors during the implementation process.
2. Ongoing DOJ Oversight of the Cleveland Police Department
This is the second DOJ intervention in Cleveland in 10 years. The previous consent decree was short-lived and the pattern of abuses continued. Strict oversight is needed for at least five years, until the changes have been integrated into every facet of Cleveland policing.
3. Implement and Invest in Community Policing Practices
Community policing is a widely regarded strategy that can help strengthen police-community relationships, lower crime rates, and improve neighborhoods. These methods should be prioritized in funding and training within the CPD. In particular, the CPD should: require officers to patrol neighborhoods on foot as much as possible; partner with neighborhood groups or individuals on community activities; provide cultural competence training for its staff; and include community policing standards on performance reviews.
4. Reform the Civilian Police Review Board
The board has serious failings, including a lack of fair and due process, unresponsive or uncompassionate officials, and little-to-no transparency in the grievance process. A reformed board must have: adequate funding; independent investigatory and disciplinary powers; membership that reflects inclusion, expertise, and leadership in the community; and broad access to the public that allows Clevelanders to easily report grievances.
For Cleveland to make transformational changes in the Cleveland Police Department, it must be done with the full cooperation and participation of community members and leaders, law enforcement, civil rights organizations, elected officials, and the Department of Justice, according to Shakyra Diaz, ACLU of Ohio policy manager.
“These reforms are extensive and challenging,” Diaz said. “However, they are greatly needed to reform the Cleveland Police Department into one that enforces the law in a constitutional and effective manner while being open and accountable to local residents they are sworn to serve and protect.”