The city of Cleveland and the US Department of Justice announced a massive overhaul of the police department.
In a press conference on Tuesday, the city officially agreed to a settlement including numerous new measures designed to curb tactics that led to high-profile instances of violence against unarmed Clevelanders.
The settlement comes days after a judge acquitted Michael Brelo, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot unarmed couple Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012. Russell and Williams were black, and Brelo is white. The decision sparked protests across the city.
The provisions come as the conclusion to a 21-month investigation the Justice Department started in December which found the Cleveland police engaged in widespread use of excessive force against its civilians. The investigation found incidents of officers beating civilians in the head when deadly force wasn’t justified and dealing too forcefully with the mentally ill.
The agreement includes wide-ranging provisions to improve police oversight, bias and use of force training, and improved access for community members to communicate with police.
“Our goal is to have real reform that will be sustainable. This agreement is a major step in getting us to that point,” Mayor Frank Jackson said.
As a part of the settlement, Cleveland will strengthen oversight of police, collecting data to better determine patterns in use of force. The settlement also puts a civilian at the head of internal police investigations to curb pro-police bias.
Officers will also be required to undergo training to avoid implicit racial bias and will be retrained on when and how to use force.
A new commission will also convene regularly where officers and members of the community will meet to discuss issues. The settlement also puts in place specific committees to address how police are handing interactions with mentally ill.
“If we don’t ensure that our officers and our community have a better relationship, then a lot of what we are talking about now are going to be hard to do,” Cleveland Police Commissioner Calvin Williams said.
An independent federal monitor will be appointed to oversee the changes and will report directly to a federal judge on the city’s progress.
The settlement comes at a tense time between communities and law enforcement nationwide. Protests have erupted following several high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police, most recently in Baltimore.
Cleveland was the scene of such a shooting last year when police shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice for what turned out to be a replica gun that fires plastic pellets.
Ahead of the press conference on Tuesday, more than 200 protesters demonstrated outside Cleveland City Hall chanting Rice’s name along with Russell’s and Williams, and singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
(Reporting By Julia Edwards in Washington and Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Bill Trott and Susan Heavey)
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