Once again, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a plan on how to reform a city’s police department after police-involved deaths of unarmed African Americans.
Last week the Justice Department announced an agreement with the city of Cleveland.
The agreement, which outlines how to reform the city’s troubled police department, is creating an organization that is more accountable and engaged with the people it serves.
The 105-page agreement filed Tuesday in federal court called for community policing, improved training and policies concerning the use of force and more sensitivity in dealing with the mentally. A judge must now approve the settlement as well as the city’s selection of an independent monitor who will oversee reforms.
The agreement calls for the creation of a community police commission consisting of 10 residents and three police union officials that will make recommendations on practices aimed at making policing free of bias, accountable and transparent. The agreement is aimed at easing longstanding tensions between police and residents, especially in the Black community, which makes up more than half of Cleveland’s population.
The Justice Department in December issued a scathing report accusing Cleveland police of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. The worst examples in the report involved officers endangering lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hitting people over the head with guns and using stun guns on handcuffed suspects.
The agreement was announced just three days after a white Cleveland patrolman was acquitted of manslaughter for his role in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed Black suspects in 2012.
A judge found Officer Michael Brelo, who jumped on the hood of a car to empty his clip into a windshield, was found not guilty on charges related to the death of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. In his decision, the judge ruled the state had not sufficiently proven Brelo’s bullets were the ones that killed Russell and Williams.
Meanwhile, Cleveland is still awaiting decisions on whether officers will be prosecuted in the deaths of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy killed by a white rookie officer while playing with what turned out to be a pellet gun, and 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill Black woman who suffocated after officers put her on the ground and handcuffed her. Both deaths occurred eight days apart in November.
Cleveland is not an aberration.
The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police departments in the past five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Mo., and, most recently, in Baltimore. In both cities rioting and looting were sparked over the police-involved deaths of Black men.
Then U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said in December that the Justice Department had intervened in 15 police departments in the country, including eight that are operating under court-ordered consent decrees.
While the Justice Department recommendations are welcomed they provide a baseline of how police officers should conduct themselves. In the Justice Department in Ferguson and Cleveland and others there were widespread reports of police abuse and misconduct followed by recommendations of urgently needed reform.
Many of these recommendations are not new and there appears to be no mention of any reforms of the disciplinary process that would make it easier to fire bad police officers. In the end if no one is held accountable for police involved deaths of unarmed citizens the problem will continue.