Cleveland police make sweeping mass demonstration policy changes in wake of 2020 George Floyd protests
The new policy details de-escalation steps officers must take and “professionalism” they are required to show when dealing with mass protests
By Adam Ferrise
CLEVELAND — Cleveland police officials are set to change several policies that will govern the handling of mass protests in the wake of a 2020 protest of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd that turned violent when officers and protesters clashed outside the Justice Center.
The city agreed to make wide-ranging changes to the way police handle mass protests as part of its court-enforced police reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, known as the consent decree.
The proposed changes, filed in federal court late Tuesday, follow an investigation by the monitoring team that oversees the consent decree. The investigation found that police officers failed to follow protocol in reporting uses of force during the May 30, 2020, protest and that supervisors too quickly cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, among other issues.
The monitoring team also submitted a separate policy change that reinforces residents’ rights to record police officers’ actions. Also, officers cannot take steps to intimidate citizens from doing so.
Senior U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, the judge overseeing the police reform agreement, must sign off on the new policies.
The protest drew hundreds to downtown Cleveland. When the group made its way to the Justice Center, an understaffed police presence met the crowd. The two sides clashed, sparking further violence. Some of the protestors broke off and destroyed businesses elsewhere downtown.
Several lawsuits over police use-of-force during the protest and ensuing riot have been filed, and some have since settled.
The monitoring team in 2021 found several serious issues with the way police handled the crowd, along with problems in reviewing the uses of force.
The proposed policy changes include:
Officers must report any uses of force, or any uses of force witnessed, during mass demonstrations within one shift. Several officers filed reports days, weeks or months after they happened.
Any force used against a large group must be authorized by the police chief or a designee.
A policy reinforcing the requirement that officers must not use any force against anyone who is exercising First Amendment rights to free speech.
The department’s inspections unit, not internal affairs or the officers’ immediate supervisors, will be in charge of investigating any uses of force during mass protests.
A new policy will differentiate how police must handle acts of “civil disobedience” and “civil disturbances,” further memorializing that people who are lawfully protesting must not be met with uses-of-force. It also details de-escalation steps officers must take and “professionalism” they are required to show.
A policy will be updated to change the dispersal order given to a crowd when police deem the gathering a “civil disturbance.” A police supervisor must read required language, give the crowd its reason for the dispersal order and must grant the crowd more time to leave before officers start arresting people.
The department will also use a long-range acoustic device that has a much wider range than the bull-horn used by then-police Commander Dorothy Todd. The monitoring team’s report criticized Todd’s ineffective warning to the crowd.
Officers must be certified and trained in using what’s called less-lethal munitions, like pepper-ball launchers, smoke grenades and other devices officers used to fire into the crowd.
Police officials must regularly inspect any of the munitions and track exactly how many of each are assigned to each officer.
The monitoring team also submitted for approval a new policy that prohibits officers from “improperly interfering” with citizens who record police. Officers under the policy would be specifically banned from “threatening, intimidating, using force against, stopping, detaining or citing” residents solely for recording or taking pictures of officers.
If someone is interfering with police while recording, such as blocking traffic or instructing a witness how to answer questions, officers must first warn the person, give him or her an explanation of how this affects law enforcement and get a supervisor’s approval before making any arrests.
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