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Federal Investigation Leads to Strict Rules for Cleveland Police

The Justice Department probe noted a pattern of unconstitutional policing and abuse in the city

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Cleveland police are now subject to some of the strictest policing rules in the country.

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After a 21-month investigation and five months of negotiations, the City of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a consent decree enacting some of the strictest policing rules in the country, The New York Times reports.

Noting a pattern of unconstitutional policing and abuse, the DOJ report noted, among other things, that Cleveland police officers have routinely used their pistols as weapons of blunt force to the head, sometimes even mistakenly firing them in the process.

Now, Cleveland police will be required to document every time an officer removes a gun from its holster, and are prohibited from firing or even brandishing a gun unless lethal force is necessary. Pistol whipping will also no longer be allowed.

In addition, Cleveland police — which the DOJ report says have fired their weapons unnecessarily, and kicked and punched unarmed people — are prohibited from using force against people who flee or talk back to officers. Instead of displaying their weapons when no threat is posed and potentially escalating the situation, officers will be trained in de-escalation, or how to use words and warnings instead of weapons. An independent monitor will oversee the police department’s compliance.

The settlement comes just days after a judge found Cleveland officer Michael Brelo not guilty of manslaughter in the 2012 shooting death of two unarmed people, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Williams and Russell led 62 police vehicles on a high-speed chase when, reportedly mistaking the sound of a car backfiring for a gunshot, 13 officers filed at least 137 rounds into the vehicle. While other officers face misdemeanor charges, Brelo faced manslaughter for continuing to shoot after the threat was extinguished. Perched upon the hood of the car Williams and Russell were driving, Brelo fired 15 times through the windshield, striking Russell and Williams. Under the DOJ decree, police fire at cars “is generally prohibited,” The New York Times reports, “a guideline that policing specialists have called for in cities around the country.

The verdict caused Cleveland to erupt in protests on Saturday, and 71 people were arrested. Though protests have been quiet since, the DOJ report provides a glimpse into what, beyond the Brelo verdict, led Clevelanders to take to the streets. Amid intense focus on racially disparate and abusive policing tactics across the country, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, called the agreement a “model of community-oriented policing that will make both police officers and the people they serve safer.”

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