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Cleveland Civilian Police Review Board Says Chief Overrules Them Too Often

Members of Cleveland’s Civilian Police Review Board say they’re frustrated that the police chief disagrees with many of their decisions in officer complaint cases.

Board members spoke with Cleveland City Council’s safety committee on Wednesday as part of a presentation on the latest annual report from the Office of Professional Standards, which investigates citizen complaints about officers.

After OPS completes its investigations, the review board decides whether to sustain the allegations against an officer. The board can then forward the case to the police chief or safety director for discipline.

“Perhaps the most frustrating part of serving on CPRB is the rate at which the chief disagrees with our recommendations, often without well-reasoned findings, including the level of discipline, if any, he chooses to mete out,” Vice Chair Stephanie Scalise said, reading from a statement written by Chair Roslyn Quarto.

OPS Administrator Roger Smith told council that Chief Calvin Williams agreed with the board in about two thirds of cases last year.

Of 38 cases referred to the chief or safety director last year, four cases were dismissed and eight cases received lower levels of discipline than the board recommended, according to OPS’ latest annual report. In one case, the officer retired before a disciplinary hearing could be held.  

The review board now files appeals with the safety director when the chief dismisses cases the board has sustained, Smith said.

Safety Committee Chair Matt Zone said he would follow up with Williams and Safety Director Michael McGrath. Zone also said he was disappointed to hear from board members that the chief had not been regularly attending the board’s public meetings.

Williams’ office has not yet responded to ideastream requests for comment.

Last year, the review board adjudicated 221 complaints comprising 619 allegations against officers, according to the annual report. The board sustained about 18 percent of the allegations, exonerating police in another 35 percent. The board determined most of the remaining cases were unfounded or presented insufficient evidence.   

The complaints most often sustained by the board were for lack of service or unprofessional behavior.

The team monitoring Cleveland’s police consent decree has criticized the city for taking too long to clear a backlog of cases at OPS. Cleveland hired consulting firm Hillard Heintze to investigate the old complaints, freeing up staff to take on new ones.

In March, a city attorney told the federal judge overseeing the consent decree that he expects investigations to be completed on a large part of the remaining backlog cases by the end of the year.

Smith took over as head of the office in 2018. Last year, OPS received 227 complaints and fully investigated 79 of them. Another 77 remain open, and 13 were forwarded to police internal affairs because they alleged criminal conduct. The remainder have been closed or dismissed.

When he started, Smith told council, he was concerned that the “negative publicity” OPS received would hurt morale.

“I can tell you today that one of the things I am most proud of is the attitude that the OPS investigators have taken to being a part of turning around the work of the agency,” he said.

Read the full report below. Mobile users can view here.

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