Declaring that naming officers in reports of disciplinary actions is a form of public shaming that provides "little to no value," Cleveland's director of public safety last October began removing names and badge numbers from internal department bulletins detailing disciplinary cases, the Marshall Project reports. The decision by Cleveland Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard, which was never announced to officers or the public, revives a debate that has dogged the city's years-long reform process under a federal consent decree. The formal write-ups, distributed monthly, detail police department employee discipline ranging from warning letters for failing to turn on a body camera to serious brutality or dishonesty that result in firings. Howard’s decision comes after Mayor Justin Bibb campaigned and promised to bring more transparency to policing.
The goal of the notices, Howard said, was to provide “fact-based summaries and dispel any notion regarding lack of fairness in outcomes.” Names of individual officers will only be shared in response to public record requests for final discipline decisions as well as having the information posted to the department's records website. The new procedure will make it harder for residents and community groups to review the records without reading each of the individual letters, which are posted in alphabetical order. Two veteran Cleveland police officers, a supervisor and a detective, who are not identified by name because officers can be disciplined for speaking to news media without permission, said some officers were upset over seeing their names on the notices. Others, he said, “feel like (Howard) is trying to hide the screw-up officers” and that “people want to know” the names of officers who commit serious misdeeds. “We want to know who we’re teamed up with,” he said. Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said he believes removing the officers’ names from discipline lists is an effort to help boost morale within the department instead of being used as a way to shirk accountability. Follmer cautioned that the discipline process isn’t complete when the discipline notices are posted and that all records, including an officer's name, are eventually available to the public. “The process is over once the arbitration case is ruled on,” he said. Early in the consent decree process, the team hired by Cleveland to monitor the department’s progress questioned the practice of circulating discipline notices that identified employees. A 2018 report from the team noted that no member of the monitoring team could “recall seeing this utilized in any other police department that it has run, worked in, worked with or seen.”