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.

Policing Topic:

Bias Free Policing


Addressing racial/ethnic/religious discrimination, both between officers and citizens and within the CDP itself, has been a major concern in the past for those trying to reform the Cleveland Division of police, and it was the impetus for the federal investigation that brought about the 2015 Consent Decree.

In the 1922 Survey on Criminal Justice in Cleveland, the problem of ethnic religious discrimination is discussed. At that time the disputes within the CDP were between Catholics and members of Masonic Lodges, as groups vied for power within individual precincts. This reflected border conflicts between Protestant Americans and newer, mostly Catholic, immigrants. The 1931 Wickersham Commission found that Cleveland police officers regularly abused and extorted immigrants.

Though initially this discrimination was directed at ethnic whites, there was a shift in who bore the brunt of biased policing. Cleveland did not have formalized segregation prior to the Great Migration, and for much of Cleveland’s history Black Clevelanders faced proportionately less discrimination than Blacks in other Northern Cities or the Jim Crow South. However, after the Great Migration, Black Clevelanders faced increased discrimination and police bias.

To combat this, Eliot Ness implemented the policy of having Black officers patrol predominantly Black Neighborhoods, a policy that was as controversial then as it is now. He also attempted to have police intervene when there was white-on-Black violence, though this was unsuccessful.

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, several reports were issued, both on the national level, such as those by the Kerner Commission and the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement, and focused specifically on Cleveland, such as the US Commission on Civil Rights.

These recommendations included: hiring more officers of color and integrated them better into the police force, provide adequate policing services in communities of color, include civilians in the complaints process and ask for citizen input for ways to mediate conflicts between officers and citizens of color, and train all police officers on the history of Black Clevelanders. They also recommended establishing formalized structures for civilian oversight of police officers.

Problems between the police and Cleveland’s communities of color persisted into the 1980s and 1990s; there were additional recommendations made to recruit Black police officers and other officers of color, be employing affirmative action and increasing recruiting efforts in majority minority schools. These were largely unsuccessful, and Cleveland’s police officers are not as reflective of the community as either the community or police officers would like it to be.

As we enter the present era of U.S. Department of Justice involvement Bias-Free policing has become an integral part of the the mandated reforms including significant training. Yet, several years into Cleveland’s Consent Decree on May 30th of 2020 another uprising against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd left Clevelanders wondering how much progress has really been made when it comes to policing and the issue of race. 

Timeline of Key Reports & Recommendations

The timeline below summarizes the recommended reforms related to Bias Free Policing 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.

Summary of Recommendations:
Bias Free Policing
1920s - 1930s

See all Key Reform Recommendations of the 20s & 30s1920s - 1930s

Summary of Recommendations:
Bias Free Policing
1940s - 1950s

  • Shadow organizations inside the Division of Police that favor certain groups need be eliminated (1945 Survey)
See all Key Reform Recommendations of the 40s & 50s1940s - 1950s

Summary of Recommendations:
Bias Free Policing
1960s - 1970s

See all Key Reform Recommendations of the 60s & 70s1960s - 1970s

Summary of Recommendations:
Bias Free Policing
1980s - 1990s

See all Key Reform Recommendations of the 80s & 90s1980s - 1990s

Summary of Recommendations:
Bias Free Policing
2000s - Present

See all Key Reform Recommendations of the 2000s - Present2000s - 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 Bias Free Policing by analyzing past recommendations concerning racial and ethnic divisions within the department, racial and ethnic discrimination/police abuse/neglect, and recruiting officers of color.

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