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Staffing, Diversity Concerns Still Plague Cleveland Police Department

The Cleveland Police Department is facing scrutiny from the city for coming up short-staffed in three specialty units.

The city council’s safety committee held a special hearing Wednesday to address the concerns.

The homicide unit hasn’t hit its desired count of 23 detectives, Chief Calvin Williams said, though four recent hires brought the total to 19.

The domestic violence and sex crimes units are similarly understaffed, he said.

Assigning detectives to those units means removing them from other areas like patrol, Williams said, and the department is working to bring on as many new hires as possible to improve staffing overall.

“The division of police over the past two and a half years has been allowed to hire as many police officers as we could possibly get in a cadet class,” Williams said.

Although the department has brought on 137 new officers this year, it has lost 107 – mostly due to retirement, though 44 officers have resigned.

The department is at “critical mass,” Williams said, and will need to put forth additional effort to meet its goal of roughly 1,700 employees. The department currently employs 1,633 people.

“I think we can get over the hump in the next two years and crack that 1,620 mark to embark upon that 1,700 number,” Williams said. “I think we can get there in the next two years, but it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of what we’re already doing, and then some.”

Councilman Matt Zone said the police department has made progress toward increasing staff, but he wants to see more, particularly in the homicide, sex crimes and domestic violence divisions.

“The role of this committee will be, over the next year, we’re going to continue to press them until we get to 100 percent staffing levels in these three units,” Zone said.

Councilman Basheer Jones questioned Chief Calvin Williams about a lack of diversity in the department, which is made up of about 59 percent white men.

“We need more black officers, we need more white women officers, we need more Hispanics,” he said. “Why? Because they’re jobs, and how that translates and how that uplifts a community.”

Chief Williams argued that the department has improved its diversity in recent years and is hiring the most capable candidates for the job.

“We hire the most diverse, competent workforce possible,” Williams said.

Black men amount to roughly 17 percent of the Cleveland police force, while Hispanic men and women of color account for about 8 percent each. White women also make up about 8 percent of the force.

Public Safety, Fire Grant Applications Approved

The committee also approved an ordinance that would allow the Department of Public Safety to seek and accept grants from the county to fund sexual assault programs, amounting to roughly $90,000.

The department has received the grant for more than ten years, and uses it to fund victim advocates, law enforcement and prosecution, said grants coordinator Dawn Heartsong.

“Initially, it was used to create a pilot domestic violence program in the second district, where we had officers who were specially trained to just respond to domestic violence cases,” Heartsong said.

The police department has expanded the program in the years since, Heartsong said, and would like to expand the program citywide. The grant would allow for centralizing investigations of domestic violence and sexual assault.

But some committee members said they’ve heard the pitch to make these programs citywide before, and don’t understand why it hasn’t happened yet.

“What I’m trying to understand then, it’s 2019. Why isn’t there uniformity across the city?” asked Councilman Michael Polensek.

The grant has specific parameters, Williams said, and districts have been chosen as recipients in the past due to their rates of domestic violence. Some districts have specific domestic violence detectives, while others use general detectives to handle those cases.

“But we’re in the process of getting through, centralizing all domestics within the city of Cleveland,” he said.

Every district in the city has had training to help police better identify domestic violence situations, Williams said.

Also approved was a request by the Cleveland Fire Department to apply for a federal grant to help finance a new fire boat.

The city has already allocated matching funds for up to a third of the $900,000 grant.

The $1.2 million vessel would allow firefighters to address concerns along the riverfront. But council members, including Zone, expressed concern about where to store the boat.

“We need a permanent location where it’s stored on the water, and it can get into the water, and it’s not being towed from one area to another,” Zone said.

Fire department officials say the new boat will replace the current vessel, which is currently out of commission and in need of repair. The new boat will be held at Station 21, which sits on the Cuyahoga River.

The committee also approved an ordinance that would allow the fire department to seek and accept a grant to fund the purchase of a survival trailer.

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