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Cleveland, DOJ Reach Agreement Over Police Conduct


The Cleveland Police Department will now operate under stricter rules over the use of deadly force. They were negotiated as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over what it called patterns of unconstitutional policing and excessive force. The new rules come just days after a Cleveland police officer was acquitted in a fatal shooting. Mark Urycki of member station WCPN reports.

MARK URYCKI, BYLINE: Marchers took to the street in Cleveland again yesterday to protest the recent not-guilty verdict for a white Cleveland police officer who shot an unarmed black couple. Soon after, Justice Department officials were at City Hall handing out the 105-page agreement. It's the 16th consent decree with the police department since 2009. Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta says they're assembling best practices for 21st-century policing.


VANITA GUPTA: These are issues that many communities and law enforcement departments are struggling with all over the country right now, and we have a body of knowledge now that we've amassed.

URYCKI: Gupta says the Justice Department has learned that bringing the community into the process is key. In fact, community policing, like walking the beat and talking to citizens, is one of the decree's recommendations. There's a lot that's unique here. Cleveland will get a civilian inspector general who reviews policies, practices and police discipline. Cleveland officers can't shoot at moving cars and can't use a Taser on a person unless they're aggressively resisting. They can only use pepper spray to protect themselves or others. Cleveland State University law professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich says the decree is unusually specific.

JONATHAN WITMER-RICH: You can't use your firearm as an impact weapon, like to hit somebody with a gun. You can't use head strikes unless lethal force is warranted, so, you know, don't hit the head unless you really feel like deadly force is necessary. No neck holds of any kind.

URYCKI: Cleveland did have a police reform agreement under the Bush administration, but it failed to reduce the number of complaints of police brutality. Subodh Chandra was the city's law director then, and he's concerned that the police unions' strong collective bargaining agreement could make it difficult to discipline officers who cross the line.

SUBODH CHANDRA: The collective bargaining agreement is a disaster for all of Cleveland because what it does is deflect responsibility, deflect accountability and ensure, essentially, that the same-old, same-old keeps going.

URYCKI: Steve Loomis heads the Patrolman's Association here and deflects the blame from police and puts it squarely on social ills.

STEVE LOOMIS: I don't believe that for one second that you're going to be able to reform police departments. You're not going to be able to reform them enough to take care of these deep-seated, generational, decade-old problems.

URYCKI: Cleveland's Mayor Frank Jackson is walking a political tightrope. He's quick to offer support for police officers, but says the people also have a right to protest.


FRANK JACKSON: And they have a right to demand of government a response to that protest and demonstration and demand from government the ability to change according to what is right.

URYCKI: The mayor says it'll cost millions of dollars to comply with this detailed decree. Steve Dettelbach, assistant U.S. attorney, says that with a boost in jobs, tourism and the GOP convention in town next year, there's a lot of momentum, but that's not enough.

STEVE DETTELBACH: Every bit as important as a new hotel or a new public square or a convention or a new scoreboard is an investment in a state-of-the-art, 21st-century police department that constitutionally services a community.

URYCKI: Ohio has slashed revenue sharing dollars to cities like Cleveland, and Mayor Jackson says he'll look to the business community and local philanthropies to help pay for reforming Cleveland's beleaguered police department. For NPR News, I'm Mark Urycki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Urycki