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Police consent decree in Cleveland: Exclusive insight into crisis intervention training

Police and Justice Department leaders are seeing significant progress in crisis intervention training. 3News' Lydia Esparra was given an inside look.

CLEVELAND — Two months ago, a federal judge extended the Department of Justice's (DOJ) consent decree with the Cleveland Division of Police for another two years. It means the city's police force will continue to remain under the oversight of an independent monitor

The consent decree was put into effect following a multi-year investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police, brought on by several high-profile use-of-force incidents including the infamous "137 shots" case that led to the deaths of two unarmed motorists, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, in 2012. The DOJ's final report — ironically released just 12 days after the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — chastised the division for repeated "unreasonable and unnecessary use of force," multiple instances of officers "carelessly fir[ing] their weapons," and a prevailing belief among the city's Black citizens that "officers are verbally and physically aggressive toward them because of their race."

Since the consent decree took effect in 2015, the DOJ has been overseeing changes within the department. In his ruling to extend the decree in October, U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. stated his belief that the division of police "has not yet achieved substantial and effective compliance."

One area that has been noted for making significant improvement is crisis intervention training, or CIT. 3News' Lydia Esparra was granted an inside look at the Cleveland Division of Police's CIT program and how it's making a difference in the community.

In the class Esparra observed, 16 Cleveland police officers volunteered to become certified in the field to assist mental health emergencies when families can no longer assist their loved ones.

The officers go through scenarios of mental health breakdowns and are given resources from area hospitals and diversion centers.

Cleveland police officer Dana Tinsley says he sees people with mental health issues often and has a personal understanding of it from cases in his extended family. "I deal with this (mental health) every day anyways and there's been a lot of information as well as resources and things of that nature. I think it's pretty good."

Although every officer gets eight hours of mandatory behavioral health training -- in addition to 24 hours of behavioral health training in Recruit Training, eight hours of training to become a CIT officer and the annual CPT 4-hour training -- this is a specialized CIT course that requires 40 hours of learning. It happens quarterly with a new group. 

Sergeant Maggie Crespo oversees the CIT course for the Cleveland Division of Police. "If they (CIT graduate officers) are on duty and there is a call for service or something and there is someone in crisis, they are the officers required to respond," she explains.

Police are responding well to this training. A DOJ monitor in the class has been impressed with the performance of the CIT officers, noting they are approachable even though they are watched. 

Sgt. Crespo sees positive change as well. The kind of positive change that the consent decree requires. 

"I've been on the job 23 years," she says. "I like seeing the change and I like seeing the things we are doing are working."

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