Cleveland, OH- Earlier this week, the city of Cleveland and the Justice Department established an agreement to make changes to the Cleveland Police Department, which will mandate several reforms to the department. The CPD has agreed to establish various committees, revise use-of-force policies, and improve training.
Within the agreement are reform measures that focus specifically on identifying levels of force used by police and requiring increased oversight of police use-of-force incidents via paper documentation and outside analysis.
Three levels of force used by police have been established:
- Level 1 use of force is identified as actions expected to cause “transient pain and/or disorientation” such as bending a suspect’s fingers, according to Cleveland.com. It also includes unholstering and pointing a firearm, but not firing it. Level 1 use of force incidents require the officer to file a police report explaining the incident and why the officer felt the use of force was necessary.
- Level 2 use of force is identified as actions that cause “an injury, could reasonably be expected to cause an injury, or results in a complaint of an injury, but does not rise to the level of a Level 3 use of force,” such as use of an ECW (also referred to as a Taser); use of pepper spray; kicking, striking and punching; and using a police canine to accost a suspect. Any use of Level 2 force on a handcuffed suspect becomes a level 3 use of force. Level 2 use of force incidents require the immediate arrival of a supervisor to the scene of the incident, who are then tasked with interviewing the injured individual, seeing that proper medical care is administered, and writing a report to be reviewed by the district commander, Internal Affairs Unit and the police chief to decide if the use of force is justified.
- Level 3 use of force is identified as actions including “uses of lethal force; uses of force resulting in death or serious physical injury; uses of force resulting in
hospital admission; all neck holds; uses of force resulting in a loss of
consciousness; canine bites; more than three applications of an ECW
on an individual during a single interaction, regardless of the mode or duration
of the application, and regardless of whether the applications are by the same
or different officers; or an ECW application for longer than 15 seconds,
whether continuous or consecutive.” All cases of Level 3 use of force are subject to the invesigation of a new branch of the Internal Affairs Unit called the Force Investigation Team(FIT), which is tasked with arriving to the scene to complete a criminal investigation. The FIT will be “comprised of personnel from various units and will not be a new unit.”
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, takes issue with the documentation aspect of the reform agreement, claiming that the requirement is “going to get somebody killed.”
“I’m afraid that officers are going to be hesitant to pull their gun in an appropriate situation because they don’t want to do the paperwork that’s going to be associated with having to pull your gun,” he said.
According to Cleveland.com, Loomis believes the reforms are not necessarily tailored to Cleveland officers, but are a response to increased coverage of police use of force incidents that have occurred nationwide. “This is a political agenda,” Loomis said. “This has nothing to do with the actions of the men and women of the Cleveland police department.”
Sarah Childress, a reporter for PBS’s Frontline, notes that this is Cleveland’s second attempt at reforming their police department. “Over the last two decades, Cleveland’s police department is one of only five law enforcement agencies that has been subject to two separate federal investigations, underscoring how entrenched the city’s problems have become,” she wrote.
The Justice Department investigated the CPD in 1999 and had identified problems regarding properly addressing use of force incidents and examining its own officers. In 2014, the Justice Department published another investigation of the department and concluded that the CPD was engaging in a “pattern or practice of the use of excessive force” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.