WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Warren Police Department has met the terms of its settlement agreement with the Department of Justice.
This was announced Thursday after the DOJ sent a letter to the city. The DOJ says the Warren Police Department must maintain compliance for two consecutive years before it can leave DOJ control, but it is taking positive steps toward that.
The DOJ began their investigation into alleged patterns of excessive force and illegal searches in 2004. In 2012, the department determined that Warren police officers sometimes did use excessive force when making arrests. The agency got involved and found 40 areas needing improvement, mostly the Warren Police Department’s use-of-force policy and reporting.
As a result, changes were made to policing.
The DOJ then reviewed the department’s activity in 2016 and determined that the police department thoroughly investigated all use-of-force matters.
The letter says the community conveyed that Police Chief Merkel has been open to community feedback and has been committed to reform.
“Our citizen complaints have been cut in half, use of force have been cut in half, and our arrest stats from the last few years have remained the same so we can still get this job done under the new parameters,” Merkel said.
In 2013, there were 86 use-of-force incidents and 29 community complaints due to officers’ actions. In 2016, officers engaged in 41 use-of-force incidents and received 13 complaints — a reduction of more than 50 percent.
The DOJ also noted a positive interaction between a Warren police officer and kids in the community, which garnered media attention.
“We encourage WPD to continue to engage meaningfully with the community and seek input from stakeholders on local policing strategies,” the DOH letter read.
Warren City Law Director Greg Hicks said the police department was able to meet the DOJ’s standards faster than any other police department in the nation, making Warren a model for policing. He called the decision a monumental occasion.
“We are now the standard for policing in the United States,” Hicks said.
Warren City Safety Services Director Enzo Cantalamessa said everyone is proud of the strides the city has made to meet the directives.
“Words fail this moment. But to say that the city, myself, the mayor, and the community as a whole is proud and has pride, deservingly so, is an understatement,” Cantalamessa said.
Thomas Conley with the Warren-Trumbull Urban League was instrumental in bringing the DOJ to town.
“We’ve come a long way. Mind you, we went through a terrible time and from that time a lot of good has come out of it,” Conley said