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Union seeks to stop Cleveland directive to have protective services officers give up city-issued firearms

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Posted at 5:13 PM, Jan 10, 2023

CLEVELAND — The Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union representing the protective services officers that monitor and patrol the Cleveland’s vital water treatment and electrical facilities, is taking the City to Cleveland to arbitration after city officials recently decided to prevent the officers from carrying city-issued firearms while on-duty.

For at least the past 20 years, the so-called protective services officers have operated under a special police commission designation, authorizing them to protect “life and property” at the city’s vitally important water treatment plants and electrical facilities. Historically, the roughly 50 protective services officers have carried city-issued firearms and have received training at the state police training academy. The officers, which operate completely independent of the Cleveland Division of Police, must also complete annual training.

In September, Megan Schenk, the labor relations manager for the City of Cleveland, sent a letter to Danielle Chaffin, the general counsel for the OPBA. In the letter, Schenk notified the union that city officials had reviewed the city charter and determined that it did not allow for the authorization of the protective services officers. Additionally, the letter states city officials determined that the protective services officers could not be deployed at Cleveland-owned public utilities facilities that are outside the city limits.

Cleveland Water, for example, has several water treatment and pumping facilities in surrounding suburbs.

The findings in the letter break at least 20 years of historical precedent. Additionally, Chaffin said the decision to disarm the protective services officers violates the collective bargaining agreement.

“They never called me to discuss this. We never had a meeting. It was absolutely out of the blue,” Chaffin said. “I had literally no idea this was coming. I have a hard time understanding the reasoning behind it.”

Three days after delivering the letter, Shenk said the protective services officers would be forced to give up their city-issued firearms. Many of them did, Chaffin said.

“There have been scenarios where officers have captured trespassers and they’ve captured people that have brought weapons onto the property. They have captured someone who was later convicted of killing a child, who trespassed onto the property,” Chaffin said. “There are serious crimes that happen around these plants and spills onto the plants that our officers have to help prevent and respond to.

If our officers aren’t armed, they have to just observe and report because I would never ask someone to go and confront someone with a weapon while they are completely unarmed. Now, they have to just call CPD.”

Chaffin filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent the city’s directive from taking effect. Later, the OPBA and Cleveland reached a stipulated agreement, temporarily allowing the protective services officers to carry their firearms on-duty.

“The water that everyone drinks when they turn on the taps comes from the plants that these officers protect,” Chaffin said. “And the [electricity] to the entire city of Cleveland come from the plants that these officers protect.”

The two sides are expected to present their cases before an arbiter late this week. In a statement to News 5, a city spokesperson said the review of the protective services officers has been in the works for “some time.”

“It has been past practice, and continues to be, that they are to contact the local police to deal with any hostile trespassers,” the statement said. “The City of Cleveland [employs] unarmed security guards throughout the city and they are very effective in their roles. These are not police officers, but security guards. We are confident that the security guards employed by the Department of Public Utilities can and will continue to keep the areas under their watch secure.”