Cars pass the Harrington Discovery Institute in Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood.
Cars pass the Harrington Discovery Institute in Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood. Credit: Kenyatta Crisp for Signal Cleveland

University Circle Inc. wants to increase funding for its police force by requiring more property owners to chip in. 

The nonprofit, which coordinates development and events in the neighborhood, on Monday filed petitions with Cleveland City Council to create a special improvement district for the neighborhood, which is home to many major arts, healthcare and educational institutions. 

If council approves the request, University Circle Inc. would be able to levy a special assessment on property owners to pay for the police. Owners of residential condominiums, single-family and two- and three-family homes would be exempt. 

“The need for public safety in the Circle have grown and continue to grow as University Circle becomes, in effect, a second downtown,” Interim President Gary Hanson told Signal Cleveland. “Certainly with the opening of Opportunity Corridor, traffic has grown. With the growth of Case Western Reserve University, the population in the district has grown.” 

Now the University Circle Police Department revenue base needs to grow, too, he said. 

Currently, University Circle Inc.’s members – such as Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and the museums – foot the bill for the nonprofit’s police force, according to Hanson. But that only brings in about $3 million per year, and UCPD now costs about $3.5 million annually, he said. 

In a special improvement district, the nonprofit could levy assessments on the owners of commercial property and residential rentals who don’t currently pay for UCPD. 

The member institutions would also pay more, Hanson said. Case Western would pay $1.3 million next year and University Hospitals would pay $512,000, according to documents submitted to council. Several of the members, including Case Western and UH, signed the petitions endorsing the improvement district. 

University Circle Inc. has set the budget for the special improvement district at $3.5 million next year, growing to $3.9 million by 2029. 

The nonprofit is pledging to use a bump in revenue to fund more police services, such as mental health crisis response, social worker co-response, bicycle patrols, a mini station and expanded officer training. It would also form a UCPD advisory board made up of members elected by property owners in the district. 

The University Circle police force came under scrutiny after a 2020 ProPublica examination of municipal court records found that UCPD, Cleveland Clinic police and University Hospitals police disproportionately charged Black people. That disparity received new attention last year, when Republican Cuyahoga County Executive candidate Lee Weingart cited it in his campaign against his Democratic opponent, former University Circle Inc. President Chris Ronayne. 

Hanson said that UCPD does not engage in racial profiling and that the statistics on citations “have been selected in order to make a political point.” 

Last November, Cleveland renewed its agreement with University Circle police through Dec. 1, 2026. That agreement expanded UCPD jurisdiction to include Little Italy. The deal also requires UCPD officers to wear body cameras and mandates biannual reports on citizen complaints. 

A 2018 agreement between the city and UCPD required the creation of a civilian review board. Although that board did not review citizen complaints in 2020 and 2021, Hanson told Signal Cleveland that it is now holding meetings. 

While UCPD can operate in Little Italy, the neighborhood would not be included in the special improvement district. The district’s proposed boundaries run from Ansel Avenue west to the Rapid Transit tracks and from Cedar Avenue north to Wade Park Avenue. 

Council President Blaine Griffin, whose ward includes part of University Circle, said he supports the petition and plans to move it through council soon. A special improvement district makes sense for the area, given the large influx of visitors the neighborhood sees each day, he said. 

As for UCPD, Griffin said he believed the department will be held to a different standard “because of the scrutiny, but also because of the work that everybody has done to make sure that we hold them accountable.”

Under state law, Cleveland has 60 days – until mid-June – to make a decision on the petitions.

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.