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CPD focusing on filling specialty units as Council pledges more oversight

Cleveland police
Posted at 4:58 PM, Nov 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-27 17:49:25-05

CLEVELAND — In a hearing that was at times contentious, top brass at Cleveland’s Division of Police, including Chief Calvin Williams, fielded a flurry of questions from members of City Council’s Safety Committee about current under staffing at three of the division’s most visible specialty units, including the homicide, sex crimes and domestic violence units.

The three units, which have some of the highest caseloads in the division, have struggled to maintain desired staffing levels in 2019. However, additional detectives have been assigned to both the sex crimes and homicide units in recent weeks, Williams said.

Safety Committee Chair Matt Zone set the tone of the hearing early on, telling police officials that the committee will be providing more oversight in 2020.

“This is not going to be an adversarial hearing but it will be a probing hearing,” Zone said.

According to Williams, the domestic violence unit has 10 detectives currently assigned to it but the desire is to have the unit outfitted with 15 detectives. Currently, the sex crimes and homicide units both have 19 detectives assigned to each unit. However, Williams said the goal is to have each unit staffed with 23 detectives.

Staffing levels have frequently fluctuated over the course of 2019, officials said. In the sex crimes unit, there were points in 2019 in which the unit had only 14 detectives assigned to it. The homicide unit has fluctuated between 13 and 19 detectives this year, officials said.

“People are frustrated. They want the homicide unit, the sex crimes unit and the domestic violence unit staffed,” Zone said. “The council is going to continue to probe this question over the next several months to make sure that we get to 100% staffing levels.”

Williams assured council members that their concerns were also his concerns, vowing to continue to try to adequately staff the three specialty units as the division also moves forward with its full-bore recruitment efforts for patrol officers. Additionally, the division is in the process of standardizing its training program for investigators, which would allow future detectives to fill positions more quickly.

“It’s hard to talk about staffing in specialty units without bringing patrol into that,” Williams said. “Ninety percent of what goes into the specialty unit comes from basic patrol.”

On that front, the division has hired 136 new patrol officers in 2019. Another 80 cadets are expected to be hired in early 2020. Currently, the division has 1,633 sworn officers, including 79 cadets currently in training and the entire division’s command staff.

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

Increasing staffing at the division of police has been slowed by the number of retirements and resignations in 2018 and 2019. This year, 107 sworn officers have left the division of police, including the retirements of 55 officers. More than half of the 44 officers that have resigned in 2019 were cadets and had not completed their training.

Although the division has not budgeted for staffing levels above 1,700, Williams said he is open to discussing it.

“If we are really going to do the things that need to be done to investigate criminal activity and violence in this city we have to hit the certain numbers,” said Councilman Mike Polensek. “From a McDonald's restaurant to whatever, you have to figure out what your staffing levels are. If you are going to run a business, you have to know what your staffing levels are. The Cleveland Police Department is a business. It’s a public business.”

Council members also lamented the number of officers who spend only a few years working for the division before moving to a suburban department. Some council members expressed interest in possible legislation that would allow the city to recoup some of the costs of training those officers.

“We are not the training program for the suburbs of Cuyahoga County,” said Polensek.

Perhaps the most contentious moments of the two hour hearing concerned the topic of diversity at the division of police. Councilman Basheer Jones took great exception to the high number of white males in the department.

“This is a major issue,” Jones said.

According to statistics provided by the division of police, 58.8% of the division’s sworn officers are white males, which exceeds all minority officers combined. Much of the division’s supervisory staff, including lieutenants, captains and commanders are white males.

However, the division’s patrol officers and upcoming cadets appear to be more diverse, featuring more black women, Hispanic women and Hispanic men.

Facing intense questioning from Jones, Williams said the division has greatly increased its efforts in recruiting officers from minority communities. He also said part of the reason for the diversity challenges comes down to the fact that a majority of applicants are white men.

“A white officer can be just as effective in any community within this city as a black or Hispanic community, any officer. We have them and they do it every day,” Chief Williams said. “We hire the most diverse, most competent workforce possible.”

Jones quickly expressed doubts in the chief’s assertion.

“No we don’t,” Jones said.