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Monitor Says Cleveland Needs New Approach to Police Complaint Backlog

The monitor overseeing Cleveland’s police reform agreement says the city is “not on the right track” in reducing a backlog of citizen complaints.

City officials, the monitoring team and the U.S. attorney’s office agreed at a federal court hearing today to come up with a new plan by mid-December for cutting down the backlog.

“The city needs to take this seriously,” monitor Matthew Barge said at the hearing. He later added, “This has been festering for a very long time.”

Cleveland agreed at the end of August to a plan to cut the backlog in half by the end of the year.

But Barge said the city’s office of professional standards had only closed 38 cases by the end of October, and two thirds of those were non-compliant with the consent decree or other guidelines. He said 383 complaint cases, from 2014 to the present, remain unresolved.

“It’s clear that the trend here is in the wrong direction,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said.

The office of professional standards investigates citizen complaints against officers before referring them to the police review board. Allegations sustained by the board are sent to the police chief or safety director for possible discipline.

There are 12 investigators working through complaint cases, half of whom are temporary employees brought in to clear the backlog.

Cleveland law director Barbara Langhenry said the city is receiving fewer complaints than it was several years ago.

She said the city is conducting a national search for a new administrator for the office, after the prior head moved to a new position. The city is also hiring a senior investigator and community outreach staffer.

“There is a lot of transition in this office,” Langhenry said.

Barge replied that the city’s problem wasn’t resources, but leadership.

“We have heard this all before,” he said. “We’re not on the right track.”

Judge Solomon Oliver said he was pleased with the city’s progress in many aspects of the consent decree, but said addressing the backlog should be a high priority. He said that if the city can’t adhere to a new plan, he would call another, more adversarial hearing on the matter.

“This is one that we cannot let fester,” Oliver said.

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