By Adam Ferrise
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CLEVELAND — Two key Cleveland agencies charged with handling police misconduct are failing, according to a report released Thursday by the team overseeing reform in the department.
The Office of Professional Standards, which investigates civilian complaints, and the Civilian Police Review Board, which recommends discipline stemming from OPS investigations, are woefully lacking in their performance, wrote Ayesha Bell Hardaway, interim monitor of the consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and Cleveland designed to reform policing.
The criticism comes as both agencies are set to take on enhanced responsibilities under voter-approved changes to the city’s charter, known as Issue 24. OPS will have expanded investigatory responsibilities and the review board will be the final decision maker on discipline.
Monitoring team member Richard Rosenthal called the OPS backlog of cases “utterly unacceptable” during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver that addressed the report.
Oliver acknowledged the city made some progress in the last six months, but that it still has a long way to go before it completes reforms mandated by the consent decree. Oliver also said he planned on appointing a new monitoring team in the coming weeks.
Hardaway has been leading the team since the October departure of former monitor Hassan Aden.
Her team’s 87-page report on Thursday detailed a list of other issues previously identified by the monitoring team that have gone largely unchanged in the last six months. The list includes the timeliness of use-of-force and internal affairs investigations, biased reviews by the police department’s Force Review Board, and a staffing and deployment plan that hasn’t been addressed in the wake of hundreds of officers leaving the department.
It also highlighted several successes, including increased use of de-escalation techniques by officers. Uses of force, while up slightly in 2022, are down from 2018. No deadly use of force was used in 2022, officials noted.
Overall, however, the Office of Professional Standards has failed to live up to its mission over the past six months, members of the monitoring team and Justice Department said.
The office has not replaced its administrator since November 2021, has been without a general manager for nearly two years and is without a senior investigator, officials said.
The city’s Civilian Police Review Board, which interviewed candidates for a new administrator, bungled the process, according to the report. Board members missed interviews with candidates and ultimately only three of the nine members agreed on a new hire. Plus only two members were present for the interview of the person selected. The new OPS administrator, Marcus Perez, will not start until May and will effectively have to “re-establish” the office, the report said.
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“The new administrator will face tremendous challenges,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heyer said during the hearing before Judge Oliver.
The Office of Professional Standards has 170 open cases, including 40 that are more than a year old. The office often fails to investigate cases quickly, particularly for critical incidents, Rosenthal said during the hearing.
“It’s been the same problem we’ve talked about in 2017 and 2018, and yet we’re back in the same position with a backlog,” Rosenthal said. “It’s just not acceptable.”
Interim OPS administrator John Cudnik said the office closed 60 more cases in 2022 than it did in 2021, despite losing four investigators and seeing an uptick in new complaints. But the report noted that it also took the office two-and-half years to investigate the fatal shooting of Desmond Franklin, who was killed by off-duty officer Jose Garcia. By that time, police officials had already determined they were not going to discipline Garcia.
“This case has been part of a pattern of the OPS/CPRB being unable to timely adjudicate community complaints relating to critical incidents that the Monitoring Team has observed for the past several reporting periods,” the report said. “OPS’s inability to timely investigate these significant cases remains a hurdle in the City’s path towards compliance.”
The Civilian Police Review Board also has a backlog of some 70 cases that OPS finished investigating, the report said. A recent review of police discipline shows that Cleveland’s police chief overruled board recommendations in more than half of the cases it reviewed.
And when the review board does issue recommendations for discipline, it fails to “robustly” explain exactly why it chooses to recommend discipline for officer misconduct.
“These disagreements have resulted in the less-than-timely final adjudication of cases and signals a disconnect between the PRB and the Chief of Police,” the report said.
Board chairman Michael Hess said during the hearing that the review board adjudicated about 200 cases last year, up from 103 cases in 2020.
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