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.
Making the Cleveland police more accountable is one of the key mandates of the 2015 Consent Decree. Today, a lack of accountability is cited by many citizens as one of their top concerns, as accountability serves as the bedrock for citizen’s confidence in policing.
This is not a new concern; over the last 100 years, police accountability has been on the minds of Cleveland’s citizens. In the 1920s and 1930s citizens had serious concerns over a wide range of behaviors. The 1922 Survey on Criminal Justice in Cleveland raised concerns about officers getting drunk on duty or accepting bribes.
The 1931 Wickersham Commission found officers abusing civilians and using the threat of violence to extort disadvantaged citizens. Eliot Ness was appointed Safety Director to deal with the extensive influence of organized crime within the Cleveland police. Recommendations from this time period include: making promotions merit based and it easier to root out and arrest corrupt and abusive officers.
These efforts were in full force when Ness was Safety Director, but largely fell away by the time he was forced to resign.
Amid the growing push for civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, there were recommendations made to bring accountability in line with the specific demands of the Citizens. The 1966 Little Hoover Commission, the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement, the 1967 Commission on Civil Rights, and the 1968 Kerner Commission all recommended that civilians be given more control over the accountability process, and that some type of citizen-led oversight body be put into place. These recommendations were reiterated in the 1980s and 1990s, first by the 1983 Mayor’s Committee, and later by the International Association of Police Chief’s report on policing in the 1990s.
Police accountability continues to be a persistent concern amongst the citizens of Cleveland; we need to look back at what has worked and what has not to ensure that the police, and every institution of government, is held accountable to its citizens.
Timeline of Key Reports & Recommendations
The timeline below summarizes the recommended reforms related to Accountability from the reports & documents that reviewed Cleveland police operations and encouraged reform. These are not the exact words from the text, but are summarized by our researchers as best as possible – highlighting key points and phrases.
- Change discipline process and modify/remove civil service to make it easier to discipline bad officers (Criminal Justice in Cleveland), (Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement), (Reorganization Police Department, Eliot Ness)
- Go after corrupt and abusive officers (Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement), (Reorganization Police Department)
- Promotions based on merit, modify civil service promotions (Reorganization Police Department)
- Civil Service should be removed from involvement in the police department in favor of a department based trail board (due process) that makes recommendations to the Director of Police. (Criminal Justice in Cleveland)
- First clandestine internal affairs unit (Reorganization Police Department, Eliot Ness)
- No highlights for this particular area. Please check back as our analysis continues.
- Establish fair systems to review officer conduct and resolve citizen complaints (Cleveland's Unfinished Business in its Inner City), (The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society), (Kerner Commission)
- Establish common values and goals across all units (Cleveland Grand Jury Report), (Cleveland Crime Commission Corruption Report)
- Rotate officers to different districts regularly (Cleveland Grand Jury Report), (Cleveland Crime Commission Corruption Report)
- Establish internal affairs unit (Cleveland Grand Jury Report), (Cleveland Crime Commission Corruption Report)
- Enable confidential whistleblowers and provide protections (Cleveland Grand Jury Report), (Cleveland Crime Commission Corruption Report)
- Update rules of conduct (Cleveland Crime Commission Corruption Report)
- Police union negotiations should be limited to wages, benefits, and pension (ABA)
- Establish procedures to facilitate full and fair processing of complaints about general police services and about individual officer's conduct (National Strategy to Reduce Crime)
- Employ Force Incident Team; use data to analyze UOF incidents; highlight officers who deescalate as models; use UOF reports to assess need for training (Report of the Mayor's Committee on Police-Community Relations)
- Abolish Mayor’s complaint panel; elected or appointed civilian authority will rule on serious cases of misconduct (Report of the Mayor's Committee on Police-Community Relations), (Policing in the Nineties)
- A detailed list of all reform efforts for this time period can be found in the Consent Decree. Read the Consent Decree here or click below to see all documents and recommendations in the 2000’s - present
Continuing the Research
The CPC’s research into the documented history of the Cleveland police is ongoing as part of the 100 Years Project. We will be looking further into the topic of Accountability by analyzing past recommendations concerning discipline, corruption, Illegal activities, organized crime, and bribery/extortion.
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.
100 Years Project: Explore by Decade or Topic