Cleveland Public Safety Director Karrie Howard presents his budget to City Council. Credit: Stephanie Casanova / Signal Cleveland

Cleveland’s Public Safety Director wants to use some of his budget to bring young people into policing. 

The Department of Public Safety is focusing on its recruitment “pipeline” by proposing to spend $1 million to grow an existing program and create a new one that will encourage youth to consider policing as a career. 

Public Safety Director Karrie Howard presented the department’s budget to Cleveland City Council Wednesday.

The $1 million is a small part of the Department of Public Safety’s $381 million plus total budget and falls under the $8.9 million designated for the public safety director’s office. It’s one of several ways the department is working to recruit and retain officers.

Howard and his staff answered multiple questions from council members, who were especially concerned about police recruitment. 

The police department has been struggling to recruit and keep up with the pace of officers leaving the department in recent years. 

By the end of last year, Cleveland employed 1,292 uniformed officers out of a budgeted headcount of 1,640. The proposed 2023 budget includes funding for 1,498 uniformed officers. 

The Public Safety Department’s proposed budget is about 60% of the city’s total budget, with a majority of that – $217.9 million – going toward the Cleveland Division of Police.

This year’s budget proposal cuts 142 vacant positions from the 348 that were empty in December – leaving 206 police jobs to be filled in 2023. 

Among several recruitment tactics, the department wants to expand its explorers program and start an ambassadors program. These programs would help create what Howard called a “pipeline into public safety.” 

The explorers program targets youth from 14 to 20 years old with an interest in a career in law enforcement. The program offers mentorship and hands-on experiential learning activities such as crime scene evidence collection. 

The Public Safety Department is also starting an ambassadors program, targeting young adults ages 18 to 26. The program would employ 12 ambassadors part time. Howard said the goal is for ambassadors to be trained as CPR instructors and to engage with the community. 

The ambassador program would expose participants to the kind of work they could do in a public safety career. 

The public safety department is also working with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to put vocational programs in place to introduce 11th and 12th graders to public safety careers. 

And the department is hosting conditioning camps every weekend to help those interested in joining the academy prepare for the physical fitness test. 

Past camps were held at recreation centers around the city but are now staged at the old South High School in Slavic Village. The building is being transformed into a public safety training campus where police, firefighters and paramedics can train together, Howard said. 

The department has also focused on recruiting in person by hosting information sessions at recreation centers and through outreach on social media.

Council Member Charles Slife asked whether the department keeps track of a person as they go through the application process, from when they take the civil service exam to when they enter the academy. 

Detective Felton Collier, assistant director and lead recruiter with the department, said applicants now receive an email congratulating them on taking the first step toward a career with the police department. 

They also receive contact information to reach out to recruiters during the process, a list of what steps they need to complete in order to start the police academy and an invitation to attend conditioning camps, Collier said.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the proposed budget for the Cleveland Division of Police. It’s $217.9, not $271.9.

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.