The Cleveland Consent Decree

With the advent of cell phone video technology and social media access to uncensored, unedited video uploaded to the internet, people the world over have witnessed horrific brutality against African Americans, perpetrated by members of America’s police forces. Some of these were: 1) an African American man, stopped because of a broken tail light was shoot 8 times in the back, and legs, KILLED by a Police officer in Charleston, South Carolina 2) An African American a naked, unarmed, Air Force veteran shot and killed by a white male police officer in DeKalb County, Georgia,3) An African American man was shot and killed during a “stop and frisk” encounter in Los Angeles ; 4) In Baltimore, a young black man shackled in a police vehicle became a victim of beatings which resulted in a fatal spinal chord injury ;5) the video of an angry white police supervisor using excessive force to slam a teenage girl at a pool party face down to the ground and then drawing and pointing his firearm at two teenagers who came to assist her. Not to mention Ferguson, New York City, Minneapolis or Tulsa. Instances of white male police officers using excessive and often lethal force against unarmed African Americans seem to be a gathering, or as they say now, a ‘trending’ epidemic in these United States. But these kinds of abusive behaviors by American Police is nothing new for the African American!! What is new is having the technology to bare witness to this systematically unmonitored, unchallenged, biased abuse on this segment of America population of color. Policing is easy in a Police State. For African, Latino, Asian Americans, America has always been a Police State. Thus the Cleveland Decree!

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
– by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Department of Justice has been crafting Consent Agreements and instituting Independent Monitors going back at least to 1981 in the aftermath of the issuance of the Report on Who Is Guarding the Guardians? by the US Civil Rights Commission.The Cleveland Division of Police {CDP} has had the most recent incidents of police using unjustifiable lethal force. It was the case of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African American boy who was at a playground holding a toy gun.; and then the horrific shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, an unarmed couple sitting in their own automobile. They were pursued by 13 vehicles filled with Cleveland Police officers. These Officers fired 137 bullets into this unarmed citizen’s car which was not in run away mode. This car was so still that One officer was able to jump up on the hood of their car. While standing on the hood fired directly into the windshield at Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams.

The US Justice Department has been investigating and critiquing police departments from Portland, Oregon to Puerto Rico, from the LAPD to the New Orleans PD for their practices and patterns of racial discrimination, excessive force, abuse of the homeless and the mentally ill, over-reaction to perceived threat and unjustified uses and abuses of police authority. I was a police psychologist and victim services specialist for thirty years so I began to look more closely at this situation. I found that In all the incidents reported, the police officers invariably stated that they were “in fear of my life”. When suspects survive being shot by police, they state ‘I ran cause I was in fear of my life”. If one is honest, regardless of class or race, when one is stopped by police there is invariably the feeling of fear at the interaction. When the interaction becomes or appears to become confrontational, the fearfulness on both sides escalates. It occurred to me that the Fear factor was the common denominator from both sides. The FEAR response is likely the reason why trained police officers make errors of judgement and perception that result in their use of excessive force or firing a pistol when they thought they were going to use a Taser. In psychological and neuroscience experiments, it is the emotion of fear which most consistently cause self-destructive behavior to occur. I was contacted by the editor of content for the Safety Channel. she asked me would I blog on the Fear Factor and how it might contribute to the national debates on how to address this most distressing phenomina. Police brutality of it’s citizens. My next blog will be about The FEAR Factor from a Police man’s point of view.

After reviewing the Cleveland Consent agreement and looking at how it stacks up against other consent agreements which DOJ has formed with other cities around the country, notably New Orleans and Portland, this agreement looks more structured and detailed. It holds the promise of truly reforming and professionalizing the Cleveland Division of Police. The details provided in the agreement and especially the provisions for an independent monitor and an accountable Office of Professional Standards, in addition to a police Inspector General, and the specific inclusion of community committees, bode well for community involvement in the process and transparency in how complaints against the police are to be handled.

Where the plan is weak however, is in addressing the psychological factors behind both community residents’ ways of reacting to police and the reaction of police officers when they become fearful that the interaction with a citizen is getting out of their control. Much more work needs to be done in putting police officers in realistic training situations, using the available high technology Use Of Force simulators especially those which include biodata connections to look at how the officers manage their breathing, blood pressure, adrenaline and muscle activation, among other biological markers of the fear response. These training mechanisms can also be made available to community groups. Combined with Crisis Response training, including mental health and substance use professionals and consumers in the trainer panels, these training exposures can teach officers how to modulate their sense of fear and to manage their own fearfulness. As the quote by MLK states there will be a lot more reporting and a lot more work for the Police to do in order to apprehend a suspect on the administrative end but well worth the effort if we can save lives! My next blog will address the FEAR Factor of the Police officer’s and how it affects his behavior towards a suspect.

The Author:
Dr. Guy Seymour, a police psychologist and victim services specialist for thirty years.
“I am a new blogger, a police psychologist and victim services specialist for thirty years and an African American father of two young adult men and a daughter, living in a big city.”

Author: TSC

Share This Post On