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.


1980s - 1990s

The “war on drugs” hits Cleveland hard and the crime rate peaks in the early 1990s, Cleveland looks for a way to modernize its police force and improve community-police relations. Unresolved complaints of police brutality lead to a citizen referendum for change and oversight. Even with the new complaint investigation system in place police manage to escape accountability and little change occurs. 

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 80s & 90s

  • Partisan politics – Cleveland is firmly Democratic, but the last Republican Mayor is George Voinovich is elected in 1980. Race and socioeconomic status remain the principal political divisions.
  • Cleveland continues to lose population, no longer in the top 10, Cleveland is down to 505k in 1990. Black Clevelanders make up 46% of the population. There are 1,668 sworn officers, of which 26% are Black.
  • There was some economic recovery and economic redevelopment.
  • Organized crime is weakened but not eliminated.
  • Crime across the US reaches its highest levels since Prohibition. This is also the case in Cleveland; homicides reach their peak in 1991. The crime rate starts to decline in the mid 1990s.
  • Police reform at this time is concerned with modernizing the force, improving community relations, increasing diversity, and improving performance.

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Organizational challenges; outdated policies

New programs for improving the CDP, new program for administrative rulemaking, restructure units

Sources Recommending: The 1980s Plan, Policing in the 90s

Recruitment, particularly minority recruitment, promotions

Commitment to affirmative action, improve civil service entrance and promotional exams, make policing more attractive to minorities--establish partnerships with schools

Sources Recommending: The 1980s Plan, Strategic Report


Improve training for at all levels, supervisors will be evaluated by employees; teaching leaders to accept change

Sources Recommending: The 1980s Plan, Policing in the 90s

Current investigative process for police involved shootings

Employ Force Incident Team; use data to analyze UOF incidents; highlight officers who deescalate as models; use UOF reports to assess need for training

Sources Recommending: Mayor’s Committee

Current procedure to resolve complaints against officers

Abolish Mayor’s complaint panel; elected or appointed civilian authority will rule on serious cases; Law Dept. for minor

Sources Recommending: Mayor’s Committee; Policing in the 90s

Community Relations

Address concerns of the growing Hispanic community; Establish an open and receptive climate for minorities to work with officers and maintain minorities' interest

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s, Strategic Report

Union contracts

Increase managerial flexibility, accountability of command staff

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s


Raise educational standards for entry; every officer must know and be accountable for policy

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s

Police doing non-police work

Have civilians do civilian work “civilianize certain tasks”

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s


Praise for mini stations however Integrate mini-stations leadership into police districts; too involved in politics

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s


Improve data collection and analysis to help fight crime

Sources Recommending: Policing in the 90s

Newspaper Headlines

Headline from The Plain Dealer, Feb. 11, 1988

Highlighted Quotes

The department is not striving to break new ground. We are not going to be at the forefront of police technology; we are not going to conduct experiments as a result of this plan. We are going to return to traditional values of public service, working to do as well as possible, the things which citizens depend on police to do–Be there when they are needed, be helpful and sensitive, give good service, and be honest in our work as well as in our acknowledgment that we are not perfect.

– The 1980’s Plan For Improving CDP Operation

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.