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City of Cleveland, Cleveland Police Department

Citizens offer input to proposed changes in the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force policy

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, October, 2016) Over one hundred people gathered at Urban Community School, on September 20th, to offer input to proposed changes in the Use of Force Policy from the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team. Residents were given a handout with a brief summary of current use of force policy and the proposed changes.

After some initial remarks from Matthew Barge of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team, residents broke into groups and discussed the policy and then reported their concerns back to the larger group.

Residents generally liked the policy recommendations which included an emphasis on using techniques that will help in de-escalation of conflict and called for “additional restrictions” on when deadly force can be used. The proposed new policy also requires officers to provide medical aid to anyone injured after the use of force. The new policy recommendations also redefine when force can be used saying, “Force must still be objectively reasonable, but also be necessary under the circumstances, and proportional the threat facing the officer.”

However, concern was expressed about closing potential loopholes in the policy that might be exploited when the policy goes into practice, improving communication between officers and residents, how to move toward a more nonviolent police force, and how to assure accountability.

One group wondered if there should be a requirement of how long officers are required to attempt de-escalation before force can be used. They asked, “What is in the policy to hold officers accountable to make sure they did everything possible to de-escalate?” The group wanted to make sure officers violating the policy were held accountable. They urged “specific, swift actions that would be taken against officers that violate the policy.”

Another group liked the emphasis on de-escalation of conflict, but expressed concern when de-escalation is attempted about communication between officers and residents in cases where there is a language barrier.

A recommendation came from one group for increased training of officers to allow them to be able to better identify when there is a genuine threat. This group also recommended that residents have access to a data base about officers which would give them information on their background such has the languages they speak, their educational background and history of use of force.

Another recommendation from citizens was that police officers learn more about the different cultures they serve showing respect to residents by attempting to understand their cultural differences. It was suggested that officers carry a cheat sheet with common phrases in Spanish and learn more about youth culture.

Some discussion occurred about helping officers to find a way through counseling or other means so that the previous day’s trauma does not affect their current day and how they react to people.

Residents expressed concern about complicit bias against people of color and how to address it during training of police officers. Residents said they would like to see training of officers include them knowing how they would be held accountable for improper use of force. Residents called for more scenario based training that would simulate actual situations officers may encounter on the job.

One group called for officers to be held accountable by an independent body that would review officers’ records that had a history of use of excessive force. Residents also called for isolation of police officers after an incident of use of force so their report on the incident would not be influenced by others. They said initial reporting should be completed prior to the end of their shift.

Residents said they would like police officers to approach each call figuring out how they can make the situation better before they leave. They said they prefer this to a more militarized view of situations. Residents said they would like police officers to hold each other accountable for their actions. They would like police officers to step in when they see another officer’s actions are out of line. Residents said they would like to see an end to the blue wall of silence and see the police department get rid of its “bad apples.”

It was suggested that police be aware of addresses where the call may involve a conflict with mentally ill person.

Residents said in addition to a responsibility to de-escalate a situation, a responsibility not to escalate a situation should be more prominent in the use of force policy.

There was also some discussion about the Police Citizen Review Board and making it more of an independent body.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams spoke to the crowd at the end of the session thanking them for sharing their ideas. He said there was a lot of work to do with communication.

Williams called for a greater understanding in the community of the policies used to govern the actions of police.  He said, “There is a lot of misperception about policy and the way police work is done and the realities of doing police work in urban communities.”

Williams talked about changes that are already occurring in the police department. Responding to some of the items brought up by residents, Williams said we have been using de-escalation tactics and have had officer wellness programs for the past few years.

Williams invited community members to sit in on community meetings and go on a ride along with police to help residents to “understand what is going on not just from your perspective or the police perspective, but from everyone’s perspective.”

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