LORAIN — Police Chief Cel Rivera said Wednesday he wants his department to seek accreditation through a nationally recognized program to help win back the confidence of the public following the completion of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
“That would go a long way toward restoring the credibility of the department,” Rivera said.
The Justice Department closed its investigation into allegations of excessive force and sexual misconduct by members of the Lorain Police Department in May after finding that there was no longer a pattern of such misconduct by officers.
Federal investigators generated a 30-page technical assistance report that suggested numerous changes to the Police Department’s policies and procedures, and recommended that the city “investigate and remedy command deficiencies that permitted LPD’s past use of excessive force.”
Rivera said that although he’s pleased the Justice Department closed its investigation in the manner it did, he takes issue with the suggestion that misconduct was rampant within the department’s ranks until the federal probe began.
“First of all, we truly believe there was never a pattern of excessive force to begin with and second of all, we want to move forward,” Rivera said.
To assist with that, Rivera said he plans to recommend pursuing accreditation through the Virginia-based Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Rivera said getting the accreditation is a difficult process that only police departments that hold themselves to the highest professional standards can achieve.
According to the organization’s website, once a law enforcement agency signs up for accreditation it has three years to complete a self-assessment, which includes meeting a lengthy list of standards that range from command protocols and use of force rules to officer discipline and training. The standards also deal with media access, investigation and traffic protocols, sexual harassment, searches and profiling.
After the self-assessment is completed, the applying agency is subject to an on-site inspection, according to the website. The commission’s Agency Review Committee then holds a public meeting to review the on-site report and determine whether accreditation should be granted.
If a police department gets accreditation, it’s good for three years and the department is responsible for continuing to meet the commission’s standards in order to maintain its status, the website said.
Rivera said getting accreditation isn’t cheap — it costs $10,100 to start the process in addition to the cost of the onsite review, according to the website — but he believes it will be worth it.
In addition to helping repair the department’s damaged public image, Rivera said he believes accreditation would help with officer morale. It also could substantially lower the Police Department’s liability insurance rates, he said.
Rivera said he plans to first bring the accreditation proposal to the five-member committee that is reviewing the Justice Department recommendations to see what changes should be made in Lorain.
Rivera said the committee is comprised of himself, Sgt. Larry Meek, Sgt. Michael Failing, Officer Kyle Gelenius, who is president of the police union, and Geoffrey Smith, the city’s director of human resources and risk management.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Smith originally wasn’t assigned to the committee, but he decided he wanted a representative from his administration involved in the review process.
“To me it’s about parsing through the facts of those things highlighted in the report,” Ritenauer said.
Although Rivera said some of the suggested changes already were in place before the Justice Department began investigating, the committee is reviewing every recommendation put forward by the feds, starting with use of force.
“Truthfully, we don’t agree with all of it, and I’m not sure we’re going to implement everything,” Rivera said.
For instance, Rivera said the department likely will implement a recommendation that would require officers to complete a use of force report every time they draw their service pistols, even if the weapon isn’t fired.
But at the same time it would be impractical for a supervisor to be dispatched to launch an investigation every time an officer draws his weapon, Rivera said. The report suggested that supervisors be sent to the scene of every instance of use of force.
Rivera said officers typically draw their weapons when they arrive at certain calls, such as when they respond to reports of shots fired. Such calls are common in the city, he said.
The mayor and chief both said that the issue of command oversight will be addressed as well. Rivera said the focus will be on making certain front-line supervisors such as sergeants and lieutenants are held accountable going forward, but the process goes all the way to the top.
“I’m the chief and it happened on my watch, so I’m responsible for fixing it,” Rivera said.
One complaint Rivera has about the technical assistance report and the accompanying six-page letter from Jonathan Smith, chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is that they are long on sweeping generalizations of misconduct, but short on specifics.
Rivera said the letter noted that there were numerous examples of excessive force prior to 2008 — the investigation began in November of that year — but offered no particulars. He said the Justice Department has informed the city it will not share details from its investigative files that the city could use to follow up on specific incidents that concerned the feds.
The Justice Department has publicly refused to say what sparked the investigation, but the probe is widely believed to be the result of complaints forwarded to Washington by Councilwoman Anne Molnar and former Councilman Mitch Fallis.
Some of the past problems alluded to in the report are fairly easy to discern, Rivera acknowledged. For instance, the letter noted there were instances in which the Police Department knew about allegations of sexual misconduct by officers and nothing was done until years later.
Those are likely references to former officer Stanley Marrero and Jesus Sanchez, both of whom were convicted of crimes involving women they pursued, sometimes on-duty. Marrero was cleared of another set of charges stemming from sexual assaults he was accused of committing in 1993 but wasn’t charged with until 2008.
Rivera said that many of the problematic officers who have dragged down the reputations of the good police officers in the department are no longer on the force. Some, including Marrero, Sanchez and Emilio Morales were convicted of crimes, the chief said.
But problems with those officers also led to steps to hold those still on the department more accountable for what they were doing on their shifts, Rivera said, including installing GPS units and cameras in patrol cars. Those changes were initially resisted by some officers, but the idea is to document where officers are and what they’re doing, Rivera said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.