CLEVELAND — Frustrated by the mayhem reported at several Cleveland intersections Sunday night and Monday morning, some city council members, including Safety Committee Chairman Mike Polensek, are calling for increased traffic enforcement by the Division of Police. The renewed calls come as data shows Cleveland officers have written far fewer speeding tickets this year compared to the same point last year.
Around 9 p.m. Sunday, the participants of a large car meet on the west side of Cleveland began to disperse near West 110th Street and Lorain Avenue. Over the next four hours, the drivers of many of those cars, which included Dodge Chargers, Challengers, and other sports cars, began systematically taking over various intersections on the west side by blocking traffic, eventually giving way to other drivers performing donuts and burnouts in the middle of the intersection.
The displays of disregard continued over the next four hours as the group made its way east, taking over more than a half dozen intersections in the process. The next day, AirTracker 5 captured long trails of circular skid marks that the joyriders left behind.
Polensek (Ward 8) said the reckless driving continued into North Collinwood on Monday morning, awakening him from his sleep.
“There’s total disregard for the traffic laws, total disregard to the community and kids. You have to ask yourself: what are they thinking? Or are they not thinking?” Polensek said. “They realize that, unfortunately, from the standpoint of traffic enforcement, there is not much of that anymore in the city of Cleveland.”
Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell, whose ward was also inundated by reckless drivers over the weekend, was flabbergasted by cell phone video showing what had happened.
“It’s telling me that this is going to happen again and again and again,” Conwell said. “If we don’t do something about it, it will happen again and again and again. It will get worse.”
Although police located one of the vehicles involved in the reckless driving abandoned near downtown, it is unclear if any arrests were made. Polensek said the recent incidents are emblematic of a deeper, broader issue.
“I’ve never seen it like this before,” Polensek said. “The disregard for basic traffic laws, going through red lights, stop signs, speeding in school zones. It’s out of control.”
According to Cleveland police data, as of April 30, the number of speeding citations written by officers (1878) has declined by nearly 46% compared to the same time period last year (3457).
“What we have to do is the use the red hot stove effect and start taking away people’s vehicles and arresting people. They can’t get away with this,” Conwell said. “This is not good for the safety of the residents in the City of Cleveland.”
The declining number of speeding citations this year is also readily apparent at the district level. According to CPD records, speeding citations written by officers in the first district have declined nearly 79% this year. This year, officers in the second and third districts have written 38% and 30% fewer speeding citations respectively.
Speeding tickets in the fourth district have been cut in half while citations in the fifth district have declined nearly 79% this year, records show.
Polensek believes the Division of Police’s current staffing level, which is short 241 officers from the budgeted amount of 1640, has played a major role in what he describes as a lack of traffic enforcement.
“Those of us that have been around for a while, we’re saying, ‘wow, wait a minute. We have never had this before. We have never seen anything like this before," Polensek said. “You have to step back and say, ‘what do you do to take back the street?’ You take back the streets by making it clear that if you want to do this there is a price to pay: you get a ticket. Why, in certain suburbs, don’t you speed? Because you know you’re going to get a ticket. That’s the way it is. They’re trying to set the tone. Where do you set the tone for law enforcement? You set it with traffic enforcement.”
Polensek said he is expecting an update on the division’s staffing level at the next Safety Committee meeting next week. A Cleveland Division of Police spokesperson did not return requests for comment.