The U.S. Department of Justice found “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department routinely has used excessive force, following the conclusion of a civil rights investigation launched last year to examine hundreds of cases, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.
An independent monitor will oversee new police reforms in the city to ensure that law enforcement operates appropriately, Holder said.
The DOJ last March opened a federal investigation of the Cleveland police force after residents, civil leaders, and Mayor Frank Jackson requested a review of a series of high-profile incidents. The “thorough and independent review,” which spanned more than a year and a half, concluded that officers engaged in unnecessary use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes, and used excessive force against people who were mentally ill and in crisis, Holder said during a press conference. Some of the officers’ search and seizures, he added, violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The department examined nearly 600 use-of-force incidents that occurred between 2010 and 2013.
“We have determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Public Police engages in a pattern and practice of using excessive force,” Holder said. The actions, he said, were the result of systemic deficiencies, such as inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement in the community.
“We must seek to heal the breakdowns that we have seen,” Holder added. He said the problems are both complex and longstanding.
Holder’s trip to Cleveland came amid a heated national conversation about police practices, community trust in law enforcement, and public safety. Less than two weeks ago, Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy “airsoft” gun outside of a recreation center.
Holder also met Thursday in Cleveland with law enforcement and civic, community, and faith leaders about restoring trust, rebuilding understanding, and fostering renewed cooperation between police and residents. Earlier this week, he held similar talks during a trip to Atlanta.
On Wednesday, a New York grand jury decided not to indict the officer who placed Eric Garner in an apparent chokehold in July that led to the Staten Island man’s death. Last week, a grand jury in St. Louis did not indict officer Darren Wilson in the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. The DOJ has opened civil rights investigations into both cases.
The recent incidents “have really raised urgent, national questions, and they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities that they serve and protect,” Holder said.
Programs to reform police practices are currently underway in New Orleans; Seattle; Albuquerque; Portland, Oregon; East Haven, Connecticut; Warren, Ohio; and Puerto Rico, according to Holder.
RELATED: What will come out of Ferguson?
Earlier this week, the Obama administration took steps toward addressing concerns of police brutality around the country by requesting tens of millions of dollars to purchase as many as 50,000 police body cameras to equip law enforcement officials nationwide. The president also made public plans to build a task force that will work to reduce crime and build trust among officers and their communities. Holder said on Monday in Atlanta that he would soon announce new DOJ guidelines to address racial profiling in law enforcement.
“We are committed to moving forward together, here in Cleveland and throughout the nation,” Holder said Thursday. “We have a great deal of work to do, but this announcement, I think, marks an important first step.”