Northeast Ohio Chapter: Cleveland's Consent Decree - The Path Forward
April 8, 2015
05:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Event Location:
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law - Moot Court Room
1801 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH
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Joined by the Northeast Ohio Chapter and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Student Chapter of the American Constitution Society, the Norman S. Minor Bar Association, ACLU of Ohio, and the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law and Alumni Association, Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich moderated a discussion on Cleveland's potential consent decree with Carole Rendon, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Professor David A. Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar, University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The program, which was attended by over 90 Clevelanders, focused on exploring: (1) the problems identified in the investigation report; (2) lessons learned from previous consent decrees in other cities, both those that were successful and those that largely failed; (3) how to establish effective and transparent accountability mechanisms for police forces; and (4) how community members can get and stay involved with the eventual enforcement of any agreement. 

Professor Witmer-Rich opened the program with an overview of what a consent decree is and its legal basis and of his conclusions on why some consent decrees succeed and others fail.  Next, Professor Harris discussed the racial aspects of policing and how to create lasting change through accountability systems and ensuring deep buy-in from the police force.  Finally, Ms. Rendon focused on describing many of the underlying problems that led to the investigation;the ways in which the Department of Justice is using community feedback to guide the consent decree negotiations; and several of the accountability mechanisms that have already been publicly agreed-to by the parties.  The program finished up with a 25 minute question and answer session. 

Some of the key points of emphasis included:
  • There are only 12 full-time Department of Justice lawyers overseeing over 18,000 independent police departments in the US. Federal supervision of those forces is limited to ensuring that they police constitutionally and do not engage in “patterns and practices” that constitute “systemic failures” offending the constitution, particularly the 4th Amendment.  
  • Successful consent decrees focus on improving (1) policies, (2) training, (3) supervision, and (4) accountability.  For lasting success, a premium must be placed on overhauling the accountability structure of the organization by, among other things, establishing mandatory reporting of certain incidents and effective early warning systems, and ensuring buy-in from both the community and the rank-and-file officers. 
  • Having an independent, outside monitor (which the City of Cleveland has already publicly agreed to) is a crucial and necessary accountability mechanism, but there is no substitute for sustained community engagement to ensure that the actual provisions of the consent decree are enforced. 

Lawyer Chapter(s):
OH - Northeast Ohio
Student Chapters: