The agreement entered into by the Cleveland Police Department in which the department has promised to enact widespread systemic reforms, especially around the use of force, is one of the most stringent Justice Department settlements yet, says the Christian Science Monitor. Federal investigations and consent decrees like the one in Cleveland have become increasingly common, and they may be one of the best chances troubled police departments have for taking on the daunting task of reform, addressing police misconduct, and improving relations with a distrustful community. “They are an effective and almost necessary remedy for troubled police departments, and I define troubled police departments as those that are incapable of reforming themselves,” says Sam Walker of the University of Nebraska. In some departments, the necessary changes won't take place in any meaningful way without outside intervention and oversight, he says. “It's a jolt from the outside.”
The first major consent decree was in Pittsburgh in 1997. How successful they are can vary; the decree doesn't end until compliance can be demonstrated (Los Angeles's decree lasted for 12 years). One of the earliest and most successful examples of a DOJ agreement that produced lasting results was in Cincinnati, where the mayor requested an investigation in 2001, and the decree was lifted in 2007. Part of what made the Cincinnati reforms so successful was a collaborative agreement that emphasized community problem-oriented policing, says Scott Greenwood, a civil rights lawyer. That was a key shift and one that took a long time to implement. The fact that problem-oriented policing is part of the Cleveland directive is a sign of how the Justice Department is evolving, says Walker. The Cleveland agreement mandates creation of a permanent inspector general position, which will last after the oversight is gone. “This whole thing has been a learning process since Pittsburgh in 1997,” says Walker.