CLEVELAND -- A former federal magistrate who is Cleveland's lead official on the implementation of an agreement between Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the city's police department said Wednesday considerable work needs to be done to eliminate a backlog of hundreds of citizen complaints against officers, some going back two years.
The consent decree, approved by a judge last year, followed findings by the DOJ in 2014 that Cleveland officers had a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights. The DOJ also found the city's civilian complaint system was "disorganized and ineffective."
As required by the decree, the city must fix problems within two civilian-run agencies that investigate and review non-criminal police complaints. The goal is to make it easier for people to file complaints and to ensure fair and thorough investigations.
Toward that end, Cleveland submitted two new policy manuals in federal court Tuesday -- for the Office of Professional Standards, which investigates citizen complaints, and for the Police Review Board, which examines completed investigations and recommends discipline to the city police chief and safety director.
Greg White, the retired magistrate and former U.S. attorney for northern Ohio, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the city has agreed the Office of Professional Standards "needs to be fixed." He said the backlog of cases and other problems at the professional standards unit is a "long time in the making."
"It won't be corrected overnight," White said.
Cleveland is determining how many investigators and other resources will be needed to clear the backlog, he said. The city recently hired two full-time investigators, he said, but has struggled to find qualified investigators willing to work part time or on a temporary basis.
Matthew Barge, the independent monitor who reports directly to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., who approved the decree, said the standards office previously had an inadequate policy manual that wasn't being followed while the review board had never had a manual since its creation in the mid-1980s.
Barge's team, after its hiring last year, was surprised to find that a large number of citizen complaints had never been investigated. Barge said Wednesday the backlog currently stands at 440 cases.
"It's going to take some time for them to get through this," Barge said.
White said Mayor Frank Jackson remains committed to the consent decree, including provisions on how civilian complaints are investigated.
"There needs to be credibility with that system -- with the public, the police department and the administration," White said.