Issue 24: What’s Next?

As the new year approaches, Cleveland Documenters are wondering what’s next regarding Issue 24, the amendments to the city’s charter that aim to strengthen civilian oversight of police discipline in cases of alleged misconduct.

Here’s what we know.

The charter amendments officially took effect on Nov. 22. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections certified the election results in a meeting that day, as noted by Documenter Robyn Heard. You can find Robyn’s live-tweet thread of the meeting here

The first required step for implementing Issue 24 deals with the Consent Decree, a 2015 agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Cleveland.

The Consent Decree followed a DOJ investigation that found the Cleveland Division of Police had a pattern of using unconstitutional excessive force. The decree was designed to ensure constitutional policing and improve officers’ relationships with community members.

The decree also created the Community Police Commission  (CPC), a 13-member body that recommends police protocols and boosts transparency by reporting police reforms to the public. Issue 24 gives the CPC more power and ensures it will exist even if the decree ends.

Issue 24 requires the city’s law director to ask the U.S. District Court to change the Consent Decree to include the new and amended sections of the charter. Here’s the text of that requirement from Issue 24:

You can find the full text of the Issue 24 charter amendments here.

Law Director Barbara Langhenry filed a motion Dec. 2. But, rather than ask the court to modify the Consent Decree, the law director noted numerous examples in which Issue 24 differs from the decree, the charter, police-union contracts and other legal documents.

The city didn’t explicitly ask the court to do anything but said the legal conflicts must be resolved if the court orders the decree to be changed.

That motion left us wondering if the city met its initial requirement under Issue 24. Subodh Chandra, a civil-rights lawyer who helped write the charter amendments, doesn’t think so.

Langhenry wrote in the motion that the requirement is at odds with the decree, adding that the decree says any new laws affecting it must be consistent with it. Here’s what the decree says:

The decree says the city and the DOJ can agree to modify it if they believe it isn’t achieving its goals. But it also says the city and DOJ must agree to defend the terms, including in collective bargaining, where the city and police unions negotiate their contracts.

The requirement to modify the Consent Decree was included in Issue 24 out of “an abundance of caution,” according to Chandra, who added that a federal order can override a lot, including arguments that may come from police unions.

Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association (CPPA), told Cleveland Documenters the union will challenge Issue 24 once the contract is violated — that is, once a police officer is disciplined by a body that they believe doesn’t have authority to do so.

While the police chief and safety director previously had final say over discipline, Issue 24 would give that authority to the CPC.

The CPPA’s contract with the city expires March 31, 2022. Here is that contract.

So, how will this all shake out? The truth is, we don’t know yet.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. oversees the decree. He could make a decision in response to the city’s motion, or he could wait to see what Mayor-elect Justin Bibb’s administration does after he’s sworn in on Jan. 3. The DOJ also filed a motion Dec. 15 asking the court to give the DOJ and the city until Feb. 18 to work on modifying the decree, as noted by Ideastream reporter Matthew Richmond.

Bibb gave this statement: 

Eden Giagnorio, communications manager for Bibb’s transition team, added that their Safety Task Force is gathering more information and will have more to say in January about their plan for implementing Issue 24.

A city taxpayer could also file their own motion after Dec. 22, as Issue 24 gives them authority to do so if the law director doesn’t within 30 days of the charter amendments taking effect. Judge Oliver would determine if a taxpayer’s motion has standing, according to Chandra. Chandra added that he doesn’t think a taxpayer will have to step in, as he expects the Bibb administration to address the issue of modifying the decree.

If the Consent Decree is modified to reflect Issue 24, next steps include an open-application process for any vacancies on the Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) and Community Police Commission (CPC).

Issue 24 says existing CPRB members may finish out their terms. The expectation is that current CPC members who meet the new qualifications would have an opportunity to seek re-appointment to the commission, according to Chandra.

Until the Consent Decree is modified, the CPC will prioritize its work as currently outlined in the decree, placing its new duties — such as judging if police discipline is sufficient — on the back burner.

For now, the CPRB is still operating as it did before voters passed Issue 24. In fact, Cleveland City Council appointed a new member — Sherall E. Hardy — to the board last week, as noted by Documener Lauren Hakim. The CPRB expects only one vacancy heading into 2022, as Board Member Mary Clark finishes her term this month, according to CPRB Private Secretary LeeAnn Hanlon.

Want some more context on Issue 24? Check out this pre-election fact check that Cleveland Documenters team members Paul Rochford and Rachel Dissell did for The Cleveland Observer.

And take a look at more reporting from Matthew Richmond about the city’s motion.