- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - A nonprofit organization overseeing police reforms in Seattle has been hired to oversee a court-approved agreement between Cleveland and the U.S. Justice Department aimed at curbing police abuse and improving officers’ relationships with the people they serve.

A federal judge on Thursday approved the hiring of Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) to serve as the independent monitoring team for the consent decree to reform the Cleveland Police Department. The monitor will be Matthew Barge, a New York attorney and top executive with the organization.

The hiring of a monitor marks the beginning of what could be a long and arduous process to fix a troubled police department that has been criticized and closely scrutinized. A white officer fatally shot a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a pellet gun in November 2014, and two unarmed black people were killed in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire in 2012 after a high-speed car chase.

That 2012 case and other incidents prompted the DOJ to conduct a lengthy investigation of Cleveland police, the second such probe in just over 10 years. The Justice Department in December issued findings that said Cleveland police officers too often use excessive force and violate people’s civil rights.

The city and DOJ subsequently agreed to negotiate a reform-minded consent decree that U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. approved in June. While the monitor has independent oversight over reform measures, Barge ultimately reports to Oliver, who maintains broad discretion over how the agreement is enforced.

At a news conference Thursday to announce the hiring of a monitoring team, Police Chief Calvin Williams said his 1,500-member department is “willing and able to exceed the challenge” of following the reforms the consent decree requires.

PARC was hired in October 2012 to oversee reforms in Seattle after the DOJ issued an investigative finding strikingly similar to Cleveland’s. The Seattle monitor has reported that progress is being made as new policies and training programs are implemented. But there has been resistance. More than 100 Seattle officers filed a lawsuit last year challenging the department’s new use-of-force policies that the monitor helped develop. A judge dismissed the suit.

Barge acknowledged during the news conference that enforcing the provisions of a consent decree can be “messy” and that distrust between police and Cleveland residents didn’t happen overnight.

“The consent decree ultimately must drive an investment in a new shared vision for policing in Cleveland where the police and community do not view each other as ‘them’ but rather as ‘us,’ ” Barge said.

The consent decree requires the presence of a monitor for at least five years. The city’s contract with PARC caps total payments at just under $5 million.

The monitoring team will include the retired police chief of Madison, Wisconsin; the current police chief in Charlottesville, Virginia; a former director at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and the longtime director of a Cleveland program that helps prisoners transition back into the community.

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