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1 out of every 4 Cleveland Police officers has left the job during the pandemic

Hundreds more could retire at any time
Posted: 5:27 PM, Jun 21, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-21 18:21:25-04
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CLEVELAND — News 5 Investigators found 1 out of 4 members of the Cleveland Division of Police have left the department since the start of the pandemic.

Records show 404 officers left the force between Feb. 1, 2020 and May 4, 2022.

46% of the officers who left the force retired.

37% of the officers who left resigned.

The remaining 17% left for medical reasons, were terminated, or died.

Where they went

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News 5 Investigators found at least 42 officers who resigned went to work for other Ohio law enforcement agencies.

We found officers who left Cleveland were hired by other Northeast Ohio police departments, including Brunswick, Bay Village, Euclid, and Solon.

We also found some officers who resigned from Cleveland police during the pandemic left law enforcement altogether, starting careers as insurance brokers and personal trainers.

Why they left

Former Cleveland Patrolman Aaron Bledsoe, one of the 404 officers who left Cleveland during the pandemic, now works for the Solon Police Department.

Solon police officer Aaron Bledsoe talks about pay for Cleveland officers

"One of the big things or big reasons was the difference in salary," he said. "In just six months of being here in Solon, I made $20,000 more a year."

In 2021, Solon's starting salary was $77,410.

The top salary a Cleveland police patrol officer can earn is $67,619.

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Bledsoe, a father of three, also said the pace is slower in Solon.

"In Cleveland, as soon as you get on a shift, you could have 20 runs stacked up for you to work, " he said. "Here (in Solon) you just may be able to ease into your shift a little easier."

He said he misses his Cleveland colleagues "who are going out there, tirelessly, day in and day out to work," while dealing with high volumes of calls and potential dangerous situations.

"When you look at the way you're compensated, it's backwards," he said. "You’re working more and earning less."

What CPD pays

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Solon is far from the only city where police officers earn more money than in Cleveland.

News 5 Investigators surveyed 60 Ohio police departments to find out their starting salaries for patrol officers.

We found almost every department pays new officers better than Cleveland.

What's Cleveland's plan?

With a high number of pandemic departures and a low starting salary, what is the City of Cleveland doing to retain and recruit police officers?

After all, records show another 252 officers are currently eligible to retire from the force.

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Mayor Justin Bibb declined our requests for an on-camera interview, citing ongoing contract negotiations with the union that represents the city's patrol officers, the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association.

During a news conference on June 7 where he addressed the city's rising gun violence, Bibb acknowledged pay is an issue.

RELATED: Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb urges Congress to act on gun legislation

"I want to do everything I can as mayor to support law enforcement to keep our streets safe," he said.

"We are working as quickly as we can to be a good faith partner with our police union to make sure we can address the issues that we know are important to have a competitive and attractive environment."

Why CLE is not alone

Cleveland must also contend with a dwindling number of new police applicants and fierce competition for high-quality police officers.

“We used to have a recruitment pool," said Thomas Wetzel, Police Chief, Richmond Heights. "Now, we have a recruitment puddle."

Richmond Heights Police Chief Thomas Wetzel talks about retaining officers

For the last three openings at his department, only 11 people applied.

"The job has never paid better in its history. Never," he said. "And yet, we're struggling."

For the first time in his 31-year career, he hired two lateral transfers last year.

"Ideally, we'd like to hire someone that would work here for 25 years or even longer," Wetzel said. "Chiefs and cities need to be more realistic."

He said departments need to prioritize "stronger branding." He's created promotional videos for the department's website, regularly shares Facebook posts to highlight officers' accomplishments, and deploys his officers to local schools to start recruiting the next generation of police officers.

"We cannot just give this job to anyone," he said. "They've got to have good character, they've got to be smart, they've got to be brave, and not everybody fits those parameters."

Why it's challenging

"I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad," said Aisha Broussard, a recruiter for the Columbus Division of Police.

"We had the protests. We had COVID. The calls that we normally used to get as far as with people being interested in being police officers, you don’t see it," she said.

Broussard and her colleagues came to Cleveland in early May as part of their city's initiative to recruit up to 50 experienced police officers from other Ohio departments.

"We're trying to make sure our city is getting what they deserve," she said.

What residents want

"Stop being greedy," said Cleveland native Delores Daniels, when we told her other police departments were poaching officers from Cleveland. "We need them."

Daniels' said her family recently called Cleveland police for help over trouble with a neighbor. She said they waited for hours for an officer to show up.

When another incident occurred, she said Cleveland police's response was even worse. That time, no one showed up.

So, when Daniels found her car vandalized on a Friday morning two weeks ago, she didn't even bother to call. Instead, she went to Cleveland's second district to file a report in person.

"They need to step up their game when it comes to helping people, because that's what they're here for, " she said.

As summer starts, the city remains short 257 officers.

"Do we have the protection that we pay for?" she said. "Do we have enough police?

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How to learn more

The pandemic loss of 25% of its force is the third part of "Dangerously Understaffed," our series on the impact of the Cleveland Police Department's staff shortages.

To read our first two reports, click on these links:

Dangerously Understaffed Pt. 1: How Cleveland fails to protect residents from the most violent criminals

Dangerously Understaffed Pt. 2: How a Cleveland police officer earned more than the mayor