Community Q&A: CPC Forum on Police Reform History

October 25, 2021

On Tuesday, October 19th, the Community Police Commission (CPC) held an in-person and live streamed presentation to facilitate community dialogue about the future of policing in Cleveland by taking a detailed look into its past. The CPC’s 100 Years of Police Reform (1922 – 2022) presentation walked through a timeline of the City’s police reform efforts, starting with the first major documented local effort that dates back to the year 1922. 

The in-person presentation concluded with an open community forum to comment on the information presented or to ask the Commission questions. Responses to attendees questions are below.

Responses to Forum Questions & Comments

The police are responsive to crime in Cleveland. This typically means that when called for service they attempt to determine if a crime occurred and subsequently may solve the crime via an arrest of a suspect. The crime prevention efforts of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) as examined in our 100 year study appeared to be preliminarily negligible. This one area that we recommend a deeper analysis in the future. 

The City is not required to be in 100% compliance with the Consent Decree for Federal monitoring to end. The current Federal monitoring will end when Judge Solomon Oliver, or a successor, signs off on it. However, that can happen no sooner than two years after Judge Oliver, or a successor, agrees that the City is ready to move into the assessment phase, which has not happened yet.

Consent Decree paragraphs 401-403 describe the end of the Consent Decree:

¶ 401 – “This Agreement will terminate when the City has been in Substantial and Effective Compliance with the search and seizure provisions for one year and with all of the 96 remaining provisions for two consecutive years. “Substantial and Effective Compliance” means that the City either has complied with all material requirements of this Agreement, or has achieved sustained and continuing improvement in constitutional policing, as demonstrated pursuant to this Agreement’s outcome measures.”

Here’s a link to the full Consent Decree (pdf):

If you would like to see how much progress has been made so far, see the CPC’s analysis of the most recent Monitoring Team Semiannual Report:

While discrimination and racism have always been a problem, there were never formalized Jim Crow type laws in Cleveland. However, police were often called when private business owners adopted segregation practices or when there were disputes at public pools or parks. Segregation by design and practice actually became worse after WWII because of redlining and white flight.

Cleveland is now one of America’s most segregated major cities. It is well publicized that Black and brown citizens were not given equal treatment in Cleveland even after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and disproportionately experienced police enforcement and brutality.

Challenges with recruitment have been well documented throughout the CDP’s history. We will be exploring this topic at greater depth over the next few months.

Infighting, cliques, and favoritism have been mentioned as causes of bad morale, and likely bad recruiting, in the past, but other problems, such as discrimination against Black and brown recruits and concerns about pay and benefits, have also had an impact on morale and recruiting.

While we cannot speak to the perspective of every young person, we will know that police reform is working when, in general, young people do not feel like they are excluded from the conversation and, more importantly, do not feel like they are being targeted for being the “wrong” demographic. And for those who are still minors, they should not feel like they have to suddenly mature into an adult whenever they encounter a peace officer who should be there to protect them.

Recently there have been some steps, in policy at least, that have been taken. The CDP adopted a new General Police Order (GPO) concerning Youth Interactions, The CPC played a large role in its development. The intent of this is for officers to engage with young people in an age appropriate way. Also, the CPC has formed a Leaders of Tomorrow (LoT) Working Group that consists of Clevelanders aged 18 to 26, so that policy recommendations can be shaped by those who disproportionately bear the impact of negative policing.

By directly inviting them to the table. Young people are often excluded, intentionally, from conversations about policing. They are often seen by those in power as “the” problem. Changing that is the best way to give young people a voice in police reform.

Currently, the CDP is very reluctant to cooperate with outside organizational studies. It does allow access to the Federal Monitor associated with the Consent Decree. The CPC has had its own struggles with transparency form the CDP, which had to be resolved by court order (1:15-cv-01046-SO Doc #: 382).

Local media has also reported problems with gaining access to public records, particularly as it relates to use of force (

We are not in a position to speculate as to why. 

The Cleveland Public Administration Library is located in City Hall, right off of the main rotunda.

It is free for everyone to use. The librarians and archivists there are very helpful and eager to assist you. However, you cannot check out most of the documents; you can, however, use their copier for a fee or take pictures of documents with your phone. 

Also, all of the documents cited in the presentation will be available on our website in an educational section we are currently developing. The reports and documents will be organized by decade and also by topic for easy access. A link to that landing page will be available soon.

We are still analyzing the data on this topic. This will be included in our ongoing educational project examining the last 100 years of police reform in Cleveland.

Meaningful, lasting change will come about when there are substantial institutional reforms. The city needs consistent civic and police leadership who are familiar with best practices and willing to modernize as necessary. Also, the CDP should be led by a civilian leader who comes from outside of the CDP, ideally one who will be able to stay through multiple administrations. The CDP needs to build into its institutional memory the norms of adaptation and reform, as opposed to the norms of reticence to change and institutional inertia.

How this, or any, reforms are accomplished is up to the citizens of Cleveland, who are the ones who can implement real change. They have the power of their vote and the ability to pressure elected leaders to implement much needed reforms. Citizens must be diligent, as police reform is an ongoing process.

Cleveland is unique in that it was the first city to have a comprehensive analysis done of its policing practices, the 1922 study of Criminal Justice in Cleveland. This could have positioned Cleveland as a leader in police reform, but the study’s recommendations were never adopted.

Since then, policing in Cleveland has been the topic of what is likely an unprecedented number of studies, both local and national, that recommended reforms. These reforms were never fully implemented or met with limited success.