Cleveland, Seattle, And Soon – Chicago  

By Ken Hare

Chicago Defender Staff Writer

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The United States Justice Department’s handling of the recent Cleveland, Ohio and Seattle, Washington consent decrees.

Cleveland, Ohio

Despite having paid a visit to Cleveland, Ohio, many years prior to its current 2015 consent decree; Cleveland policing actually got worse due to one major mistake. There was no federally mandated oversight prescribed as part of a previous 2004 consent decree! You read that correctly. Cleveland had already been under a federal consent decree more than a decade earlier.  If federal monitoring had been included, Tamir Rice could’ve possibly been prevented. However, the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) was left to monitor its own progress according to a report issued by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

The report published on December 4, 2014, by the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, the report chronicles Cleveland’s Division of Police troubling history as it struggles its way into transparency and accountability. The report addressed to Cleveland’s current Mayor, Frank G. Jackson, opens up with blatant admissions by the DOJ

We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices—including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community—contribute to the use of unreasonable force.”

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

As reported by Cleveland.com, under an agreed upon first year plan, the police department is “..required to rewrite its mission statement,” and “..required to rewrite the use-of-force policy and have every officer trained.” Matthew Barge, the federal monitor appointed to oversee the consent decree informed U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., who happens to be a Black judge.

The report also mentions the failures of the last consent decree back in 2004 with the DOJ and the reasons behind the failures.

In 2002, we provided initial observations regarding CDP’s use of force and accountability systems and, in 2004, we recommended that the Division make changes to address some of the deficiencies we identified. CDP entered into an agreement with us, but that agreement was not enforced by a court and did not involve an independent monitor to assess its implementation. The agreement did require CDP to make a variety of changes, including revising its use of force policy and establishing new procedures for reviewing officer-involved shootings.”

Seattle, Washington

At the outset, the DOJ’s report to the Mayor of Seattle, Michael McGinn, dated December 16, 2011, at that time, laid the blame partially on the fact that one-third of Seattle’s police force is “less inexperienced” – three years or less on the force – soon to be over fifty percent inexperienced, once the retirees are replaced. This fact coupled with structural deficiencies in leadership, training, and supervision culminated in a climate of abuse within the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The report continues: “ The great majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their physical safety and well-being for the public good. However, a pattern of excessive force exists as a result of a subset of officers who use force improperly, and is caused by a number of systemic deficiencies that exist in spite of SPD’s recent reform efforts.”

Some of the deficiencies highlighted:

20% of excessive police force was deemed unconstitutional. 57% of baton usage by police was considered unnecessary or excessive. 61% of cases reviewed regarding multiple officers showed excessive force against a single person.

As part of its 2012 consent decree, the Seattle Police Department adopted the following use of force policy which was approved by Western District Court, Judge James Robart on December 17, 2013, as part of its Core Principles:

When time, circumstances, and safety permit, Officers will take steps to gain compliance and de-escalate conflict without using physical force when safe under the totality of circumstances and time and circumstances permit. Officers shall use advisements, warnings, verbal persuasion, and other tactics in order to reduce the need to use force. Officers should consider whether a subject’s lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist or an inability to comply based on factors including, but not limited to medical conditions, mental impairment, developmental disability, physical limitation, language barrier, drug interaction, or behavioral crisis.”

Seattle’s first female Police Chief, Kathleen O’Toole, who took office on June 2014, responded to the federal monitor’s 2016 report recounting the progress the SPD has made. She stated “officers used force against individuals in crisis less than two percent of the time, all officers have received some level of Crisis Intervention training, and SPD has placed an emphasis on guiding those in crisis to social services rather than to jail.

Chicago, Illinois

Attorney Tony Thedford, of The Law Office of Tony Thedford, P. C., which specializes in civil rights violations said: “I believe this is coming to Chicago.” His office had contact recently with the DOJ two weeks ago to discuss cases his firm has handled. “The DOJ is actively meeting with stakeholders, civil rights attorneys, criminal attorneys on both sides … and they’re piecing together their ongoing investigation.”

In particular, the DOJ inquired about the 2011, Calvin Cross case which the city of Chicago just settled last summer with Attorney Thedford’s office for two million dollars. In a much less sensationalized case, which received very little media coverage; the three Police Officers involved accused 19-year-old Cross of running away while shooting at them. In turn, they fired a total of 45 bullets at him including bullets from an assault rifle.

A ‘throw down’ gun was found about 1500 feet away from Cross’ body across the street which was ruled inoperable by the Illinois State Police forensic analysis, and contained no fingerprints nor was there any gun powder residue on Cross’ hands, according to Attorney Thedford.

The officers received zero discipline and [one] received commendations about a year later. They were back on the streets within 48 hours which is deplorable. I don’t even understand how an employer would expect a person having gone through a traumatic event to be able to work in a dangerous environment using deadly force or having the ability to use deadly force, shortly after having used it,” he stated.

When asked about what reform would immediately benefit his clients he said “The fact that they’re pulling these guys off the street for 30 days now, I think is a start to fully investigate what happened. It’s real simple to me – if they really disciplined officers when they shoot someone and take them off the street, then the next officer would think twice.”

The DOJ’s investigation into Chicago Police patterns and practices that started late last year is anticipated to last about 1.5 years. Stay tuned…

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