Mayor Bibb's proposed public safety budget gets a hard look from Cleveland City Council

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Councilwoman Stephanie Howse pressed Cleveland leadership to reconsider how policing is done in the city. [City of Cleveland]

Cleveland City Council members had some hard questions about the police officer hiring goals in Mayor Justin Bibb’s 2022 budget during a Wednesday hearing.

Bibb is proposing growing the ranks of the Cleveland Division of Police from the current number of 1,442 to a budgeted number of 1,640.

The department has two cadet classes scheduled to graduate in March, adding about 50 new officers, and another one scheduled to graduate in June with 26 cadets. A class expected to start in April would train up to 40 more recruits.

Safety Committee Chairman Mike Polensek asked administration officials why the mayor hasn’t scheduled another recruiting class this year.

“This is his number one issue right here, is crime and public safety and backfilling the open positions,” Polensek said. “Does anyone at this table think you’re going to get to 1,640? I don’t.”

Interim Chief of Police Wayne Drummond and Public Safety Director Karrie Howard defended the hiring goal, saying recruitment would ramp up throughout the year.

Public safety makes up about 54% of the city’s general fund budget, and the proposed police budget for this year is about $220 million. The rest is split among fire, EMS, animal control, corrections and administration.

Recruitment for police, fire and EMS are all handled by the public safety department. Four staff members recruit full time departmentwide, and Bibb has listed a new coordinator position in his proposed budget.

“We have changed recruitment, and we have the application period wide open all year,” Howard said, adding that this year’s patrol officers’ contract negotiations are likely to lead to raises.

“I do know this administration is dedicated to make a career for the division of police a competitive career,” Howard said.

The division of police has had trouble for years hiring enough officers to keep up with retirements. According to Drummond, 318 officers are eligible for retirement this year, another 409 become eligible in 2023.

Drummond said the department is going to do what it can to keep up.

“It’s been a challenge, there’s no question about it,” Drummond said. “It’s a matter of getting a qualified, diverse group of individuals that want to take the test, that’s incumbent on us.”

Councilman Brian Kazy joined Polensek in expressing skepticism about the department’s hiring goals.

“There’s no way, in God’s green earth, that we’re ever going to hit the number we’re budgeting for,” Kazy said.

Several council members questioned whether 1,640 was the right number, for a variety of reasons.

Councilwoman Stephanie Howse made a passionate call for a rethinking of how policing is done in Cleveland.

“There has never been a point, since the inception of the Division of Police, that has worked for Black people,” she said. “I ask you to think about how can we just do this differently? I understand everybody wants to eat, but not eating while people are just consistently suffering.”

Howse criticized the focus on number of officers but said the budget wouldn’t change policing, neither would the consent decree. She called for more investment in neighborhoods and less in policing.

Council has until April 1 to approve the 2022 budget.

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