The ACLU of Ohio has called on Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enact five-year oversight of the city's police department. The DOJ recently said that the department used excessive force in past high-profile incidents.
The ACLU's executive director and senior policy director co-signed a letter addressed to the mayor in which they offer suggestions for improving the Cleveland Police Department. The city's police came under fire when rookie Officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside of a recreation center on Nov. 22. Less than a month later, the DOJ completed a civil rights investigation, launched before the Rice incident, that found there was “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department routinely used excessive force. Former Attorney General Eric Holder at the time said an independent monitor will oversee new police reforms in the city to ensure that law enforcement operates appropriately.
On Thursday, the City of Cleveland agreed to work with the DOJ in creating meaningful police reform. The ACLU asked Jackson to consider several recommendations that range from ongoing oversight of the Cleveland Police Department to the creation of community advisory boards as a means of facilitating stronger ties between cops and residents.
"These reforms are challenging and expansive, but they are greatly needed to reform the Cleveland Police Department into one that enforces the law in a constitutional and effective manner," wrote the two directors. They pointed out the "deeply disappointing" reality of the DOJ's recent findings, and mentioned the conclusion is validation for residents and civil rights activists who have recognized the issues for decades.
Last March, the DOJ opened a federal investigation of the Cleveland police force after residents, civil leaders, and the mayor requested a review of a series of high-profile incidents. Residents hope to rebuild trust and confidence with the police department by increasing transparency and officer accountability.
Following the police fatal shooting of Missouri teenager Michael Brown last August, some Americans around the country called for officers to wear body cameras as a means of addressing concerns over police brutality. In December, President Barack Obama made public the government’s plan to spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement. Cleveland purchased 1,500 body cameras last month, and the first 240 were delivered to one of the five districts this week.
Rice’s death was captured on surveillance video, previously released in November upon the family’s insistence. The footage shows Loehmann firing at the boy within two seconds of arriving on scene. An autopsy report revealed the child died from a single gunshot wound to the torso, which struck a major blood vessel in the boy’s abdomen, and injured his intestines and pelvis. Details later emerged that Loehmann had been deemed unfit for duty in 2012 by a small suburban police department where he previously worked.
The ACLU's requests came amid a heated national conversation about police practices, community trust in law enforcement, and public safety. Grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City recently decided not to indict white officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.