Today, May 26, the City of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a 105-page consent decree related to the patterns and practices of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP). While this settlement comes on the heels of last Saturday’s not-guilty verdict for Michael Brelo, a white CDP officer charged with the manslaughter of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed black occupants of a car, it has been a long time coming.

The justice department opened an investigation into the CDP’s policing practices in 2013. Last December, DOJ issued a scathing report finding that officers used unnecessary and excessive deadly and less lethal force (through head strikes with impact weapons, Tasers and chemical sprays, for example). It highlighted police violence against people who are mentally ill or in crisis situations. Today’s consent decree, which must be approved by a federal judge, legally binds the CDP to following new standards related to data collection, officer training, supervision, agency oversight and community input.  

In announcing the consent decree today, Mayor Frank Jackson, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, and DOJ deputy assistant attorney general Vanita Gupta claimed that the comprehensive agreement would transform the work of the CDP entirely and stand as a national model for other police departments around the country. The Obama administration has opened civil rights investigations of several police departments including those in Ferguson, Newark, Seattle and Albuquerque.  

The CDP consent decree is far-reaching. It includes agreements on the use of force, community engagement, search and seizure practices, bias-free policing, crisis intervention and equipment and staffing. Among some of the more progressive provisions are:

  • Review and changes to standards related to the use of force including upholstering and firing weapons
  • Police officers must provide emergency aid to suspects they injure
  • The creation of a Mental Health Advisory Committee to train police 
  • on how to deal with crisis situations
  • Trainings on recognizing and avoiding implicit bias
  • Data collection and analysis of all stops and seizures
  • Appointment of an inspector general and civilian oversight into internal affairs
  • Institution of a Community Policing Commission to provide input

Do these consent decrees make a difference? That depends on the police department’s willingness to comply and make changes to its culture, policies and practices. An opportunity to assess may come with the decisions on the police killings of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, which are likely to be announced soon.