May 26, 2015 / 4:35 PM / 5 years ago

Cleveland agrees to limit police use of force after shootings

WASHINGTON/CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The Cleveland police department has agreed to train officers to minimize racial bias and the use of excessive force in a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice after a pattern of abuses was detailed in a report last year, officials said on Tuesday.

Cleveland policemen block the street outside the Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

The agreement, which requires the approval of a federal judge, would also provide a road map for changes to other departments as policing across the United States has become a flashpoint for racial tensions.

“It will define who we are as a people and who we are as a city,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told a news conference.

Authorities made the announcement about strict oversight of the Cleveland police three days after a judge acquitted a white city police officer of manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black couple in 2012. The couple, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, were in a car and were shot by officer Michael Brelo after a lengthy chase by police.

Saturday’s verdict led to protests, the latest demonstrations over deaths of black men at the hands of police, most recently in Baltimore.

Under the agreement, Cleveland’s police department will be tracked by a monitor either agreed to by the city and Justice Department or named by a federal judge. A civilian will head the department’s internal affairs division.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said the rules issued under a consent decree build on what is good in the department and aims to improve policing where it has lagged.

The Justice Department concluded a 21-month investigation in December that found the Cleveland police engaged in widespread use of excessive force.

The investigation found incidents of officers shooting civilians in the head when deadly force was not justified and dealing too forcefully with the mentally ill.

Less than two weeks before the report was released, a Cleveland police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who turned out to be carrying a replica handgun that fires plastic pellets.

Cleveland agreed to training officers in strategies to avoid biased policing, or the perception of biased actions, and avoid implicit biases. The city will analyze data on stops, searches and seizures to eliminate unconstitutional police practices.

“The essential component, and where the rubber really meets the road, is the community policing component,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said.

The agreement outlines over several pages when and now officers should use force and requires officers to provide first aid and obtain medical care after an incident.

Officers normally will not use force against handcuffed or otherwise restrained persons, or strike their heads with hard objects when lethal force is unjustified, it said.

It places limits on vehicle pursuits, an apparent response to the Brelo case. The Justice Department has said its civil rights division is reviewing testimony and evidence from Brelo’s state trial to determine if federal action would be taken.

Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, more than 200 protesters demonstrated outside Cleveland City Hall chanting Rice’s name along with Russell’s and Williams, and singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

Reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by G Crosse and Grant McCool

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