Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond, far right, presents the Division of Police budget to Cleveland City Council

Welcome to day three of Cleveland’s 2023 budget hearings!

Today City Council will examine the proposed budgets for the Cleveland Division of Police and the (new) Community Police Commission and money set aside for work related to the federal consent decree. Public safety costs make up more than half of the city’s General Fund budget, which is why council needs to spend time asking questions about it, Council Member Stephanie Howse said at the end of Wednesday’s 10-hour hearing. “We are not going to rush it,” she said.

Council heard Wednesday about a proposal to spend $1 million to create a stronger pipeline for young Cleveland residents interested in public safety careers. Recruitment has been a consistent issue in recent years in the city, and across the country. Signal Cleveland’s Stephanie Casanova has more on that plan.

City proposes to cut 142 vacant police positions, recruitment struggles persist

Council members expressed universal concern about how cutting police positions will affect crime and neighborhoods. 

Cleveland is budgeted to lose 142 uniformed police officer positions, which were chronically vacant, said Public Safety Director Karrie Howard. The department is still budgeted for 206 more officers than it currently has.

“We need bodies,” Council President Blaine Griffin repeated to Howard and Police Chief Wayne Drummond, referring to the need for more officers.

Council members pressed Drummond and Howard on how they intend to address growing crime rates, including an uptick in homicides, with fewer officers. 

Council members asked:

How many officers did Cleveland lose in 2022?

About 200 officers left the force last year. Chief Financial Officer Ahmed Abonamah said the city hired 98 officers last year.

So far in 2023, 23 officers have left in a combination of retirements, resignations and terminations.

How many vacant positions does the department expect to fill in 2023 ?

Drummond said he was “optimistic” about filling the 180 vacancies with upcoming cadet classes, which would also ease increased overtime costs.

Some council members expressed skepticism, including Ward 16’s Brian Kazy, who called the goal a “pipe dream.” Considering the nine-month training program, Kazy said it’s unlikely current and upcoming cadets would be patrolling the streets until 2024.

What about overtime?

With fewer uniformed officers to cover shifts, overtime costs were above what was budgeted last year. In 2022, $13 million was budgeted for overtime and $22 million was paid out, according to the budget book. Abonamah said they expect that number to decrease with the hire of new officers. 

Police are also exploring other staffing options, including 12-hour shifts. That change would have to be negotiated with the police union, and Drummond said those talks are currently underway. 

Council President Blaine Griffin expressed concern over burnout and officers’ well-being as a result of low staffing and long hours.

Safety Committee Chair Michael Polensek said he didn’t understand the logic that overtime would decrease with fewer officer positions or longer shifts.

Are these officer cuts permanent?

No, Drummond said.

The city’s charter allows for a maximum of 2,500 patrol officers, and the department intends to increase staffing in the future, Drummond said.

“If we can support it financially, and depending on what’s going on in our society and population, absolutely, I would ask for an increase incrementally in our numbers,” he said.

Community Police Commissioner Audrianna Rodriguez tells council why the the commission needs additional funding for its work.

Newly seated Community Police Commission asks for additional funding 

Staff of the newly seated Community Police Commission presented a budget to City Council for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

A Community Police Commission was created under the 2015 consent decree, an agreement stemming from a U.S. Department of Justice investigations into unconstitutional police practices, including the use of excessive force. 

The commission got new authority after voters passed Issue 24 in November 2021. That resident-led ballot initiative gives the board oversight over Cleveland police policy and discipline. 

The commission was seated in December 2022 and recently began listening sessions, as reported by Signal Cleveland’s Stephanie Casanova. A $2.1 million budget was allocated for the commission in 2022, but only about $500,000 was spent.

This year, the newly formed commission budgeted $2.3 million and requested an additional $17,000 for professional services and contracts.

The founding legislation calls for a budget of at least $1 million, plus 0.5% of the amount budgeted for police to be allocated to community organizations.

“I really believe that ensuring that we have the tools and resources to do our work will be beneficial to the city,” said Audrianna Rodriguez, chair of the Community Police Commission Budget Committee.

Several council members, including Joe Jones, who represents Ward 1, supported the commission’s proposed budget and request for additional funds, calling it a pathway to satisfying the requirements of the consent decree.

Read more about the 13 members of the commission here.

Left wondering: Documenter Kellie Morris, who attended the budget hearings wondered what it meant when officials said the budget was “structurally balanced.”

Signal Cleveland government reporter Nick Castele said structurally balances means that the regular revenues the city brings in are enough to cover the regular expenses that the city has without using one-time money from the Rainy Day Fund or federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

Read Kellie’s notes from the meeting.

What did Documenters cover?

In the morning session, Documenters captured discussion surrounding the proposed 2023 budget of the Division of Police, which is about $218 million. Check out this live-tweet thread from Documenter Emily Anderson for more:

In the afternoon, officials continued discussing the Division of Police before switching focus to the new Community Police Commission. Check out this live-tweet coverage from Documenter Christina Easter:

Budget hearing recaps

Day 1: The budget hearings kicked off with Mayor Justin Bibb walking Cleveland City Council through his 2022 accomplishments. Bibb released his $1.95 billion budget estimate and spending proposals on Feb. 1, which includes nearly $711 million to cover the city’s basic operations.

Bibb’s plan to balance the city’s budget relies on eliminating more than 250 city jobs that are vacant, including in Public Safety, Public Works, and Building and Housing.

Council members had the chance to ask the administration questions and bring up priorities for the wards they represent. Council members expressed concern over issues of public safety, education and housing. They also probed Bibb on campaign promises like East Side revitalization.

Council members have the final say in approving the budget.

Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele noted that while Bibb’s campaign slogan was “Cleveland Can’t Wait,” the mayor struck a more cautious tone when presenting his second budget, telling council members that “change does take time.”

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Day 2: Council members spent the day digging into public safety. Staffing, recruitment and the management of nuisance animals such as groundhogs were high on the list of council members’ concerns.

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Abbey was the service journalism reporter for Signal Cleveland through February 2023. She joined us from the Akron Beacon Journal/USA Today Network, where she was a Report for America corps member covering the City of Akron and local government.