Cleveland police enhancing training ahead of consent decree

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland police department has changed the mindset at its training academy from a military-like “warrior mentality” to that of “guardians” who feel like they’re members of the communities they serve, the police chief said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Chief Calvin Williams said police have been conducting training throughout the department ahead of what will be required by a reform-based agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve what is viewed by many people as a troubled organization. Cleveland and the DOJ agreed last month on a consent decree that a federal judge must approve and an independent monitor will oversee.

“We instill in our cadets that we are guards in the community — we are part of the community,” Williams said.

The DOJ officials announced in December that an 18-month investigation had found that Cleveland police officers had engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. The DOJ cited examples of officers using stun guns on handcuffed suspects and the 137-shot barrage of police gunfire in 2012 that killed two unarmed suspects after a high-speed chase and helped prompt the department’s investigation.

The report said the department patrols in a fashion that “contributes to community distrust and a lack of respect for officers.” The report noted that investigators had found a sign in a police district that said “forward operating base,” which it called “a military term for a small, secured output used to support tactical operations in a war zone.”

Community policing is one of the main tenets of the consent decree along with reducing the use of force, both deadly and non-lethal, better treatment of the mentally ill and greater transparency and accountability throughout the department.

Mayor Frank Jackson, speaking at the same news conference, repeated his vow to make reform part of the city and the police department’s DNA. He added that the effort must be extended to other parts of the criminal justice system that many people, especially in poor, minority communities, don’t trust.

“If they believe the process is flawed or biased, they’re going to have a problem with it,” Jackson said.

The consent decree, which Jackson acknowledged will cost the city millions of dollars, requires various types of training that has not previously existed, such as bias-free policing. Williams said he wants all officers to receive training in crisis intervention to learn how to better calm situations where mentally ill people lash out at officers who are being taken to jail or a mental health facility. That training, Williams said, will “help with de-escalation techniques in every facet of an officer’s daily job.”

Cleveland police also will receive training on how to deal with young people. That training is intended to make officers aware of how young people perceive them and why they respond as they do when confronted by police.

Responding to a question, Jackson said reforming the police department won’t solve the broader issues and causes of crime. Poor, crime-ridden communities need programs and concerted efforts to address poverty and the lack of opportunity, the mayor said.

“They’re essential if you want a strong, safe community and a community where crime is reduced,” Jackson said.