Case Study: The Cleveland Consent Decree

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There has been an excellent journalistic investigation released today by the Marshall Project of the multi-year federal oversight of the Cleveland, OH Police Department.

In the past. I have noted the important role the federal government can have when it steps in after a pattern of local civil rights violations and orders a city to, essentially, “clean up their act!” — that is, a consent decree.

But through the years this has not been easy or without significant financial cost to the city (of course paying for wrongful deaths at the hands of police is also a great financial burden to city taxpayers).

Whether police reform can ever happen is the great question before us. I believe that it can with a long-term (read “decade or more”) of sustained, passionate, and persistent leadership from the police chief, mayor and input from formal and informal community leaders.

You know, there exist “best known methods/practices” of how to field and supervise a police agency in a free, diverse, and democratic society. (For example, see “Law Enforcement Best Practices.”) But we must look beyond our nation to find them and be aware of what police, for example, are doing in the European Union. (Did you know that police in EU countries agree to use deadly force only when it is an “absolute necessity;” a standard much higher than “reasonable objectiveness” in the USSC decision in Graham v. Connor.)

At the same time, we cannot overlook the differences between EU countries and ours with regarding firearm regulations. Perhaps one day we will all agree to stop the carnage and severely regulate the purchase and possession of handguns and military assault rifles.

Nevertheless, read through this important investigation. Pay particular attention to how community members view the oversight and consider their role in improving policing in their local communities.

Currently, nearly 20 cities in the U.S. are under a federal consent decree. The longest oversight has been in Cincinnati going on more than 15 years! So far, federal court oversight is the best known method to cause police to be more controlled and accountable.

For without this kind of intervention from the federal government, what can be done when a city is not caring for and protecting all its residents? (And don’t forget our nation’s historical experience ending racial segregation and who was there to escort young black children into formally segregated southern schools? — federal Marshall’s and the U.S. Army!)

But the overall goal of our nation should be to develop safe, secure communities through constitutionally sound laws and practices overseen by effective police who are trusted, respected, and supported. Impossible? I don’t think so. It is a vision worth pursuing.

Read the full Marshall Project report HERE.

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