DOJ Finds Rampant Use of Unnecessary Force by Cleveland Police

DOJ Finds Rampant Use of Unnecessary Force by Cleveland Police December 7, 2014

With seemingly perfect timing, the Department of Justice released the results of a longtime investigation of the police in Cleveland, Ohio over the use of force by officers. The investigation found systemic and frequent use of unnecessary force by officers with little oversight or accountability.

eveland police routinely engage in “unreasonable and unnecessary” force, exemplified by a half-hour police chase involving 100 officers that left two unarmed African Americans dead when police mistook the car backfiring for gunshots and shot each of them more than 20 times, a Justice Department investigation revealed Thursday.

“The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Cleveland police engage in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the 4th Amendment,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday. “Our investigation revealed that the causes of these patterns or practices were systemic and resulted from organizational deficiencies.”

The probe, part of an ongoing series of “pattern or practice” investigations into the nation’s police departments, also found that Cleveland police often needlessly shot residents, struck them with head blows and subjected them to Taser weapons and chemical spray.

Taken together, the incidents in Ohio’s second-largest city, the Justice Department concluded, have led to a situation where “avoidable force becomes inevitable.”

Faced with the federal probe’s findings, Cleveland police and city officials have signed a statement of principles committing them to mending police-community relations. Holder said the plan will lead to a consent decree that would be “court-enforceable,” with an independent monitor to oversee improvements and ensure that reforms are made.

Investigations in other major cities have found nearly identical problems. Unfortunately, that’s done almost nothing to prompt action for serious reform either in Congress or in state legislatures.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    Unfortunately, that’s done almost nothing to prompt action for serious reform either in Congress or in state legislatures.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • I hope this is welcome and that I’m not repeating what others have posted:

    Brian Burghart, editor of the Reno News & Review, is compiling a database of “police involved shootings” as it’s termed, where people have been shot/killed/murdered/executed by police, though I’m sure murders like Eric Garner will be included.

    He began the project because of all the crime statistics kept by the FBI and other agencies, none of them compiles statistics on citizens killed by police. Burghart reports that police agencies have refused to comply and supply their records even when legally required to do so.

  • karmacat

    I have been thinking about human nature and being in a position of authority. If a person feels they have no control over some aspects of their life, they will try to control something else and sometimes become more authoritarian and punishing. Also, it is common for people to displace their anger onto other people. I think it would be helpful for police to have body cameras. You are more likely to think more if you think someone is watching you. But as others writers have pointed out, we need independent prosecutors

  • Mobius

    Slightly off topic, but I was just reading on another blog about a case in Iceland where the police shot a man to death. The nation is in shock over the event. The big reason…in Iceland’s 70 year history as a nation this is the first time the police have killed a man.

    From all indications, the shooting was justified. A mentally ill man was firing a gun at the police. Yes, he was mentally ill, but he was endangering the lives of both police and civilians. So lethal force was justified. Even so, the police involved in the shooting are traumatized.

    But think of that. The first time in 70 years!

    Now think about how things are in America.

  • …the incidents in Ohio’s second-largest city…

    Take that, Cincinnati!

  • Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Also new in ways police don’t make anyone safer:

    Massachusetts police face drunken driving charges — and lenient treatment — with surprising frequency.

    Though some officers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave after the charges, a majority kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension.

    The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” Massachusetts police departments have launched internal reviews at least four times in the last three years after learning that an officer or former officer was accused of drunken driving but was not arrested.

  • wscott

    @ Mobius #4: Iceland is also a tiny country, whose population is almost all related to one another, and which has the lowest crime rate in Europe if not the world. Wonderful country – I visited there last year and highly recommend it – but not really fair to compare them to the US.

  • rogerstanyard

    The number of people shot by police officers in England and Wales in 2013 was zero. The year before it was one.

  • D. C. Sessions

    And before anyone brings up the population of England and Wales: it’s one-sixth of the US population. Which puts their police shootings at about the same as a smallish US city in a population greater than California’s.

    In other words, we have them totally outclassed in Manly Defense of Law and Order. Pussies.

    USA! USA! USA!

  • eamick

    @9: We can also bring up Japan. Unlike the UK, their police are generally armed, but their rate of shootings is comparable to the UK’s, and Japan’s population is close to half that of the US.

  • DaveL


    The story is still remarkable, if only for the circumstances of the shooting. The police returned fire after the subject refused to stop shooting at them. Let that sink in for a minute. They didn’t shoot because they thought he had a gun. They didn’t shoot when he pointed it at them. They didn’t even shoot when he shot at them – only when he refused to stop.

  • DaveL, yes it is remarkable. Still, why did they not seek cover and wait until the subject ran out of bullets? They could have made a relatively nonviolent arrest.

    Compared to the practice in the US they showed admirable constraint. I am not sure they could not have done even better.

  • LOL, no shit. They are also known for being assholes in general. I’ve even had personal experience being messed with, and even threatened for being helpful. Not that the cops in the suburbs are better.

    I think I’ve met 3-4 decent cops (friendly, professional, non-authoritarian) in the Greater Cleveland Area in my entire life. Most of the lower-key “just doing my job” types had to be idiots or jerks about at least one thing during an encounter. Glad Ive never dealt with a criminally dangerous one in a bad mood.