CLEVELAND — The entire Cleveland police department must undergo a cultural shift to earn the community's trust and any real change may require a financial commitment from the city, a member of the team hired to monitor a police consent decree said Wednesday.
The city and U.S. attorney for northern Ohio announced last week the hiring of the nonprofit Police Assessment Resource Center as court-appointed monitor to oversee implementation of the decree.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. approved the agreement in June after the city and the U.S. Justice Department spent months negotiating since the federal department's finding last year that Cleveland police too often use excessive force and violate people's civil rights.
A key component of the consent decree is a call for police to engage in bias-free policing. It also addresses use-of-force policies and improving the relationship with residents, especially in the black community.
Team member Sean Smoot told City Council members at a hearing Wednesday that bias-free policing is rooted in "procedural justice," a concept that calls for police to treat people honestly and fairly to gain their trust.
"To have very meaningful reform and to really get the department centered philosophically on the notion of procedural justice, that takes a cultural shift, a change in thinking," said Smoot, who also is a director and chief counsel for a police union in Illinois.
Councilman Mike Polensek said his constituents have lost confidence in the department as they watch police drive by with their windows rolled up tight.
"They want police to be partners with the community," Polensek said.
Smoot said the constant flow of radio assignments leaves officers little time for community policing.
"Intensive engagement is a financial investment," he said. "The city has to decide if it's a priority or not."
Under the consent decree, the monitoring team will be in place for at least five years. Mayor Frank Jackson has said he hopes the department can meet the agreement guidelines even sooner.
The city finance director has estimated the consent decree could cost Cleveland $13.2 million the first year and $8 million in each of the following years. The resource center has capped its fees, not including expenses, at just under $5 million over the five years.