CLEVELAND — As expected, a federal judge has ordered an extension for Cleveland's consent decree, meaning the city's police department will remain under the oversight of an independent monitor for at least two more years.
In a ruling handed down Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio's Eastern Division, Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. lauded the city for "substantial progress" since the decree first took effect in 2015. However, he also stated his belief that the division of police "has not yet achieved substantial and effective compliance," and directed federal oversight to continue into 2024.
The U.S. Department of Justice first enacted the consent decree following a multi-year investigation of the department, 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. 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 cops "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."
The agreement was originally supposed to last for only five years, but was extended in 2020 when Oliver found the city to still be out of compliance. Just last month, Monitor Hassan Aden and his team released a 144-page report highlighting some positive steps but also outlining "significant and critical areas of the consent decree that remain in non-compliance," including accountability, search and seizure, and transparency and oversight.
The consent decree's introduction was welcomed by then-Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, and his successor Justin M. Bibb has looked to build upon those efforts by recently establishing a "Police Accountability Team" to further along its implementation. The new mayor has also pledged to work with City Council to appoint members to a soon-to-be operative community police commission, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November as a new way of determining officer discipline.
Should Cleveland still be found to be out of compliance in two years, the court could extend the decree again. To support its reports of progress, the city has released statistics showing overall use of force incidents are down 42% since 2019, with internal affairs investigations also declining from an average of 307 days in 2018 to 144 days in 2021.