Cleveland hires New York City attorney to head beleaguered Office of Professional Standards

May 17, 2018 GMT

Cleveland hires New York City attorney to head beleaguered Office of Professional Standards

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The city of Cleveland has hired a New York attorney as the new administrator for the beleaguered Office of Professional Standards.

Roger Smith confirmed Thursday that he was selected by the city to helm the office that investigates citizen complaints against police officers. He said he will start June 4.

He worked as executive agency counsel for the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board for nine years and left there in May 2016. He said he recently served as a hearing officer for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for New York City.


Smith, 49, fills a position vacated when former OPS head Damon Scott left the office in October. Scott’s departure came after a series of problems with the office’s investigations, the most severe being a backlog of unfinished cases that stretches back several years.

“Just based on all of the reports ... it is clear there’s a lot of work to do,” Smith said.

A city spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Smith’s hiring, but three sources also confirmed he was the city’s pick.

He said he will make $107,750 a year.

Smith was one of three finalists for the administrator job that appeared at a Cleveland Community Police Commission event in March. He spoke at the event about the importance of having a well-run oversight process, one that instills confidence in the public.

The office, which is separate from the police department, has struggled with this concept. Improvements are mandated in a consent decree the city reached with the Justice Department in 2015 to reform the police force.

As of January, there were about 380 open investigations that go back to 2015, and others the team monitoring the city’s progress under the consent decree said were not completed properly. The city hired an outside agency to examine the cases and is expected to hire a firm to complete the unfinished cases so the OPS’ full-time investigators can concentrate on new complaints.

The Justice Department highlighted OPS’ problems in a 2014 report on unconstitutional policing in the city, noting they were part of a larger problem of officers not being held accountable for wrongdoing. Head monitor Matthew Barge has said OPS has not improved since the city entered the consent decree in 2015.


While he has yet to begin his job, Smith said Thursday that he plans to break what is a monumental task into smaller pieces so staff can make progress.

“The challenge that we have is to not shrink from it, because if you lionize the task too much, you don’t do it. You walk away from it and you find ways to explain why you’re not doing it,” Smith said.

He said meaningful civilian oversight can go a long way toward creating a better relationship between the police and the community.

“If the OPS can be a part of creating that, that’s something that I would be very proud of,” Smith said.