The Cleveland Police Department Reaches a Settlement with the Department of Justice
Memorial Day weekend has hosted several important developments in the world of criminal justice. Today, the Cleveland Police department—which has come under fire in recent months in the nationwide debate over police tactics—agreed to follow some of the strictest standards in the nation over its officers’ use of force. Cleveland agreed to the terms as part of a settlement reached with the Department of Justice over what justice officials called a “pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force.”
According to the Justice Department’s report, the Cleveland police department used stun guns inappropriately, punched and kicked unarmed people, shot at people who did not pose a threat, and failed to report or investigate most of these incidents. As a part of the settlement, Cleveland agreed to some of the most rigorous policing standards in the nation. These include:
- Prohibiting officers from unholstering a firearm “unless the circumstances create a reasonable belief that lethal force may become necessary,” and documenting every time that occurs.
- Banning pistol whipping, the firing of warning shots, and the use of neck holds (that pistol whipping had to be explicitly barred says enough).
- Creating a community police commission, made up of ten representatives from around the community.
- Allowing an independent monitor to track its progress.
The settlement comes just two days after a white Cleveland officer who fired at least 49 shots at two unarmed African Americans was acquitted of manslaughter by an Ohio judge. Officer Brelo’s acquittal—as the latest in a series of troubling racially charged incidents across the US in places like Baltimore, Staten Island, and Ferguson, MO—prompted protests that remained largely peaceful but still resulted in the arrest of 71 people.
Some bad news also came out of the criminal justice sphere this weekend. On Friday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed three important criminal justice reform bills. In addition to vetoing a bill to limit civil asset forfeiture, and a bill to remove the penalty for marijuana paraphernalia, Hogan also vetoed a felon re-enfranchisement bill that would have restored voting rights to 60,000 ex-felons. Restoring access to the ballot for ex-felons is a priority in the criminal justice reform community and Hogan’s veto will serve as an important test to see whether reform advocates will show that choices like Hogan’s can have political repercussions.
BOTTOM LINE: Agreements like the one made between Cleveland and the Department of Justice have the potential to create meaningful change to a flawed system. But as Gov. Hogan’s vetoes remind us, there is much more work to be done to convince some elected officials to do their part.
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