By JAMES W. WADE III
Last week the U.S. Justice Department announced a civil-rights investigation into possible misconduct by Clevelandpolice. The mayor stood with his police chief and public safety director alongside U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach and Thomas Perez, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, as the two announced a federal investigation of allegations thatCleveland officers routinely use excessive force in the line of duty.
Besides examining the conduct of front-line officers, federal investigators will look at howCleveland police are trained, supervised and disciplined. “We will peel the onion to its core,” promised Perez.
When the Justice Department conducts a pattern or practice probe, its investigators dig deep into the culture of a police department. They examine statistics and reports. They conduct extensive interviews. It often takes more than a year. Perez and Dettelbach stressed that the Justice Department will look at how the department operates and how it interacts with the broader community and not at the behavior of individual officers.
They also said that this investigation was not triggered by any single event and that a number of incidents over the years, as well as calls from community leaders here, had prompted the Justice Department's intervention. After the chase and shooting on Nov. 29, those calling for Washington to step in included local ministers, the NAACP, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Warrensville Heights and Jackson himself.
Congresswoman Fudge had long ago written a letter asking for them to step in. After hearing the announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice(DOJ) will launch a review of the Cleveland Police Department to determine if patterns and practices lead to an excessive use of force by its officers, Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11) released the following statement:
“I welcome oversight by the Department of Justice. Last December, I requested a review by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division following the deadly Cleveland Police chase on November 29, 2012 that resulted in 137 bullets fired by police officers at two unarmed citizens. It is essential to examine not only this case, but to also carefully review the practices and policies of the Cleveland Police Department over time. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez has indicated the Department of Justice is prepared to undertake a review of that magnitude and I thank the Department for its commitment to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation. This review will help to restore and build trust between the community and the officers who are sworn to protect and serve them.”
Mayor Frank Jackson had also asked for a review in December, following the chase that ended up in East Cleveland that had 137 shots fired. During all this time a panel appointed by Police Chief Michael McGrath continues its review of the incident to determine whether the officers followed police pursuit and use of force policies.
The community plays a very important role in determining what the police are doing, but it’s the religious community that has to be involved as well. In the very beginning Pastor Jawanza Colvin, of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church sent a letter of request for the Department of Justice to come in and take over the investigation.
Rev. Colvin released this statement after the hearing the news of the DOJ stepping in. A few months ago, I, along with other community organizations and public officials, wrote letters to the United States Justice Department requesting an investigation into the patterns and practices of the Cleveland Police Department. Today, United States Assistant Attorney General Tom Peres, United States Attorney Steven Dettelbach, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Police Chief Mike McGrath announced at a press conference that such an investigation is underway. In a subsequent meeting with Mr. Perez and Mr. Dettlebach, members of the clergy and I were assured that this investigation would be focused and thorough. In addition, they pointed out that they would engage our citizens and look forward to doing outreach into our community.
“The road ahead will be difficult. This work is not easy, but this independent review is critical to ensuring and preserving trust between a police department and the community it serves,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Perez.
Such investigations typically take 12 to 18 months and often result in an agreement, or consent decree, that calls for a federal judge to oversee efforts by a department to reform its ways.