DOJ Rules for Cleveland Police: ‘De-Escalation’ Instead of Force

Susan Jones, CNS News, May 27, 2015

The Obama Justice Department intends to “transform” the Cleveland police department “into a model of community-oriented policing,” by restricting officers’ use of force to subdue suspects.

The consent decree announced on Tuesday requires Cleveland police to use “de-escalation techniques” instead of force “whenever possible and appropriate.”

And who’s to decide what’s “appropriate”? A civilian, someone with no experience in subduing dangerous suspects, will be placed at the head of the police department’s Internal Affairs division to ensure that complaints of police misconduct are “thoroughly and effectively investigated.”

In a section called “Bias-Free Policing,” the agreement says Cleveland police will “deliver police services” in a “respectful” manner, free of unlawful bias, in a way that inspires confidence: “CDP expects all officers to treat all members of the Cleveland community with courtesy, professionalism, and respect, and not to use harassing, intimidating, or derogatory language.”

Another key element of the agreement–a favorite of the federal government–is “data collection and analysis.” This means the police department must keep detailed notes on officers’ activities when they respond to calls involving the use of force–including whether they have unholstered a firearm during an encounter with someone.

According to the consent agreement, the new rules are intended to ensure that officers “use techniques other than force to effect compliance with police orders whenever feasible; use force only when necessary, and in a manner that avoids unnecessary injury to officers and civilians; de-escalate the use of force at the earliest possible moment; and accurately and completely report all uses of force.”

Much of the agreement involves use-of-force policies. Here are some of the new guidelines issued to officers who sometimes must make split-second decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. The words come straight from the consent decree, except where noted.


— Officers will use de-escalation techniques whenever possible and appropriate, before resorting to force and to reduce the need for force. De-escalation techniques may include verbal persuasion and warnings and tactical deescalation techniques, such as slowing down the pace or an incident, waiting out subjects, creating distance (and thus the reactionary gap) between the officer and the threat, and requesting additional resources (e.g. specialized CIT officers or negotiators).

— Officers will be trained to consider the possibility that a subject may be noncompliant due to a medical or mental condition, physical or hearing impairment, language barrier, drug interaction, or emotional crisis;


— Officers will not use head strikes with hard objects, except where lethal force is justified. Officers will be trained that a strike to the head with any impact weapon could result in death;


— Officers will not use neck holds;


— Immediately following a use or force, officers and, upon arrival, a supervisor, will inspect and observe subjects for injury or complaints of pain resulting from the use of force, and immediately obtain any necessary medical care. As necessary, officers will provide emergency first aid until professional medical care providers are on scene.

— As soon as practical following a use of force, CDP will ensure that the incident is accurately and properly reported, documented, and investigated. A fundamental goal of the revised use of force policy will be to account for, review, and investigate every reportable use of force and reduce any improper uses of force.


Vanita Gupta, head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, announced the “court enforceable agreement” on Tuesday, following the Justice Department’s finding that Cleveland Police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of using excessive force. She said the agreement will build a “safer, more just city.”



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