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Groups seek changes to Cleveland police consent decree

The NAACP and other civil rights groups want a federal judge to modify a consent decree aimed at reforming the troubled Cleveland police department by requiring outside agencies to investigate deadly police-use-of-force cases and to make the job of police inspector general more independent, according to brief filed Monday.

The city of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice spent five months negotiating the consent decree after the DOJ issued an investigative report in December that said Cleveland police officers too often use excessive force and violate people's rights. U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. signed the decree on June. 12.

Officials from the civil rights groups acknowledged during a news conference Monday that they were given a chance to make suggestions during negotiations but said they were promised additional input before the agreement was given to Oliver. The 105-page consent decree requires the city to reform its use-of-force and search-and-seizure policies, increase accountability and provide additional training for officers on how to deal with people having mental health crises. Reform measures will be overseen by an independent monitor who will report to Oliver.

Attorney James Hardiman of the NAACP said the agreement is good, but added: "We want perfection to the extent it can be achieved."

The groups also are asking the judge to expand data collection on race and gender for those filing police complaints; to add provisions that will help improve how officers interact with children; to give a newly formed community policing commission more authority; and to strip the monitor of immunity from testifying before Oliver "regardless of relevant evidence."

Cleveland civil rights attorney Terry Gilbert said the DOJ's investigation and past experience has shown that Cleveland police do an "inadequate" job of investigating its officers. He said there have been numerous cases in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing by internal investigators but the city ended up paying out large settlements.

"This is not a way to build a progressive policing institution in Cleveland," Gilbert said.

Another civil rights attorney, Subodh Chandra, said that whoever is appointed by the mayor to be the police inspector general should not report to the police chief as the consent decree requires.

Spokesmen for the city and the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment about the court filing.