Police Reform in Cleveland: 100 Years Project

The CPC’s 100 Year Project documents the history of policing and police reform in Cleveland from 1922 to the present. Follow our timeline starting in Cleveland in the 1920s, or see past reform recommendations made by policing topic. This is an ongoing project and we encourage all interested individuals and organizations to join us in expanding on this research.


1960s - 1970s

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Cleveland is facing multiple challenges: rising crime, economic decline, and police corruption. Carl Stokes, America’s first Black mayor of a major city, despite repeated efforts, is unable to enact lasting reforms. Neighborhoods rise up against continued police brutality and lack of equal treatment under the law. 

Significant Events

Highlighted major events in this time frame, Not intended to be an all inclusive list.

Political Climate

The general mood and opinions about political and social issues in the 60s & 70s

  • Partisan politics – the city is increasingly Democratic, but Republicans still frequently win city-wide elections. Divisions revolve less around party and more around race and socioeconomic status.
  • Cleveland elects the first Black mayor of a major American city: Carl Stokes in 1967.
  • By 1970, Cleveland is the tenth largest American city, seeing a population decrease to 750k. That year, the number of officers peaked just shy of 2500.
  • Cleveland is becoming more segregated, which is exacerbated by white flight. Redlining increases poverty among Black residents. Black owned businesses and Black majority neighborhoods suffer from discrimination.
  • Poverty is also rising, hurting city finances. In 1978 Cleveland is the first major American city to default.
  • The Civil Rights Movement is at its peak and many are calling for police reforms.
  • Crime is rising nationally, including in Cleveland. Hough and Glenville, in particular, are hard hit by the increase in crime. Organized crime is still powerful, but rival gangs compete for power in the city.
  • Police corruption, misconduct, and poor responses to calls caused many citizens to lose faith in the CDP. 
  • Police unions become increasingly powerful and are now able to campaign for and against candidates.
  • Many committees produce reports to encourage police reform.

Police Reform Key Highlights

Table listing a problem or concern along with a summary of recommended reforms. These are not the exact words from the text, but are summarized by our researchers as best as possible – highlighting key points and phrases.

Summary of Problem or Concern

Summary of Proposed Reform

Organizational issues as listed in

previous reports

More formalized power structures; higher standards for management; look towards private and non-profit sector; hire outside consultants (or hire a staff to assess)

Sources Recommending: Hoover, Free Society, Unfinished Business, Confidential Memo, CCC

Officers doing clerical and non-police tasks

Personnel is greatest asset--use it to its full potential before hiring new officers or getting new equipment; employ non-officers for non-police work

Sources Recommending: Hoover; Corruption Exposure

Lack of analysis, inability to plan for long term

Get a sense of urgency about data collection and analysis

Sources Recommending: Hoover, ABA

Poor relations with minority community is critical; officers are aloof about it

Implement new community relations policies, analyze critical incidents; Community Service Officers; train recruits and in service officers on history of African Americans (CRT)

Sources Recommending: Hoover, Free Society, Unfinished Business

Dire relations between police and

minority communities

Implement citizen advisory committee to workout conflicts between police and community; review officer conduct

Sources Recommending: Unfinished Business, Free Society, Kerner

Segregated officers, few officers of color

Hire more officers of color, particularly Black officers; hire a Black Assistant Safety Director

Sources Recommending: Hoover, Free Society, Unfinished Business

Entry level of police and police service levels

Three tier system: Community Service Officer, Police Officer, and Police Agent (college level); recruit college grads

Sources Recommending: Free Society, ABA, Grand Jury

Crime sensationalism

Give people facts, not sensationalized stories about crime; let people decide acceptable balance between crime prevention and civil liberties

Sources Recommending: Free Society

Police discretion

Community must set standards for discretion, not just admonish officers for bad discretion

Sources Recommending: Free Society

Officer training

Improve officer training, include human relations training

Sources Recommending: Unfinished Business

Officer recruiting and retention, particularly of Black officers

Offer better pay, improve relationship with minority communities to encourage recruitment; integrate black officers into the entire operation of the force

Sources Recommending: Unfinished Business

Civil unrest and insecurity in minority neighborhoods

Provide adequate police services; establish fair and effective grievance procedures; recruit more Black officers

Sources Recommending: Kerner, Unfinished Business

Police corruption

“The time has come to stop making excuses and act.” Enable whistleblowers to go directly to chief--whistleblower protections, direct inspections from chief and SD; corruption investigated by prosecutor’s office

Sources Recommending: Corruption Exposure, Grand Jury, CCC


Cannot be in bars in uniform, no unauthorized weapons, frequent inspections; update rules of conduct (circa 1950)

Sources Recommending: Corruption Exposure

Police unions

Keep union negotiations to wages, benefits, and pension; do not give up the right to set policies or management rights

Sources Recommending: ABA

Police political activity

Police have political rights, but should not wear their uniforms when campaigning--it compromises their objectivity

Sources Recommending: ABA

Police involvement in policy change

Police should have input into policy, but policymakers and citizens have final say

Sources Recommending: ABA, Free Society


Improve openness and transparency to keep citizens informed

Sources Recommending: ABA

Aging officers and outdated traditions are ruining morale

Mandatory retirement at 60 or 65; establish Employee Review Unit to re-evaluate personnel; establish internal affairs and complaints unit

Sources Recommending: Grand Jury, CCC

Police work is too siloed; lack of common values

Rotate officers regularly, more cross meetings, insist all units

have common goals; consistent ethics and morale

Sources Recommending: Grand Jury, Corruption Exposure, CCC

Newspaper Headlines

Headline from The Plain Dealer, Dec. 30, 1966

Highlighted Quotes

The problems of police and community relations are so critical in Cleveland that they warrant immediate and serious attention leading to the adoption of new concepts, policies, programs and procedures. Yet, the division stands aloof from very serious community problems, and it has no real program directed toward the analysis of these problems, nor for their solutions.

– 1966 Cleveland Little Hoover Commission

(Released two weeks prior to the Hough Uprising)

We do not mean to condemn certainly an entire police department but we do mean to make constructive criticism so that all may benefit by the same, so that the police department of tomorrow and the day after will be one of quality, so that it will be a profession attracting young men, that it will be the pride of all our citizenry.

– 1974 Grand Jury Report

Continuing the Research

The CPC’s research into the documented history of the Cleveland police is ongoing as part of the 100 Years Project. By looking into Cleveland’s past, the CPC aims to help the community gain a better understanding of what policing practices have been successful, what issues exist, and what lessons still need to be learned to move forward in creating a more sustainable policing model for the future. If you are an individual or organization interested in joining us in taking a deeper dive into this information, please contact us to get involved in expanding on this research.

Join the Research

Please contact CPC Senior Policy Analyst, Ryan Walker, at rwalker@clecpc.org to get involved in expanding on this research.

Schedule a Presentation

CPC researchers are available for interviews and custom presentations for schools, groups or organizations interested in this project or its findings.

Questions or Feedback

We welcome your questions & comments about this project. Contact us via the information listed on our contact page or start a conversation on our community forum.

100 Years Project: Explore by Decade or Topic

Read about key documents and events by year, or learn about how each police reform issue area mandated by the 2015 Consent Decree compares to recommendations made in the past.