The U.S. Department of Justice cited the investigation Cleveland police’s use of force, which I started alone in 2007 and concluded in 2011 with fellow Plain Dealer reporter Henry J. Gomez, in the federal government’s rationale for imposing a consent decree on the city.
To uncover the insights contained in the investigation, Henry and I mined the knowledge of subject matter experts to the point where we could speak authoritatively on the subject. As with any journalistic endeavor, this required building relationships founded on trust. Henry brought an exceptional level of clarity to the newswriting. I owned the data: I identified the data sources and acquired them despite the city’s repeated disregard for public records laws. I then analyzed hundreds of thousands of records from multiple data sources that had not previously been combined in order to produce insights.
As a journalist and a data analyst, having my work saluted in a document such as this, which will have a lasting impact, is exciting validation of my work.
On the other hand, this validation comes in an unfortunate package. Implementing the changes required that the DOJ’s consent decree requires will, unfortunately, cost Cleveland taxpayers millions. It also will, again unfortunately, negatively impact the good officers who make up the vast majority of the force as much or more than it impacts the few bad actors.
The impacts of the investigation that are unfortunate did not need to be so. Individuals’ professional behavior is shaped by the legacy of their organization, by the way they are trained, by the way they are supervised and by the way they are rewarded. In fact, some of the officers Henry and I wrote about are good men – all of them or almost all of them were men – trying to make the city a better place in the system in which they were employed. Those who were just not fit to be police were hired by a flawed system and after not being insufficiently reprimanded for questionable behaviors went on to increasingly more problematic behaviors.