CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Public Safety Committee approved the use of federal pandemic relief funds during a special meeting Wednesday to offer police officers retention bonuses in an effort to stem the tide of departures from the department.
The emergency ordinance will use a $4,215,000 American Rescue Plan grant to provide $3,000 bonuses to all of the city’s sworn police officers over a two-year period.
All current 1,309 sworn officers who agree to stay on staff until Dec. 1, 2024 will receive $1,500. After Dec. 1, 2024, the officers who remain on staff will receive an additional $1,500, according to city officials.
The full city council and mayor must approve the ordinance for it to take effect. They're expected to do so before the end of this year.
How many officers left
As of Wednesday, public safety officials said the police department is short 331 police officers. One-hundred-seventy-six officers have left so far this year.
News 5 Investigators found the city has hemorrhaged police officers since the start of the pandemic. We found 30% of the city's police force left the department between Jan. 1, 2020 and Oct. 31, 2022.
There were 186 departures in 2021 and 133 departures in 2020. The majority of officers either retired or resigned.
Why it could get worse
News 5 Investigators found Cleveland police's staffing shortage may get even worse in 2023. Records show 30% of Cleveland police officers are eligible to retire next year.
Staffing records show 419 officers will have served at least 25 years as of 2023, which makes them eligible to hang up their badges.
At the same time, like police departments across the country, Cleveland is also struggling to replenish its ranks.
In August, 25 new officers graduated from the police academy.
However, the next police academy class was canceled this summer because the city only found only nine qualified candidates.
What council members said
Public safety officials said they also applied for a federal grant to offer hiring bonuses to police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee, was concerned the grants are short-term fixes for a long-term problem.
"I think we really need to start think out of the box... wherever we can," he said. "Because we have a lot on our plate."
Earlier this year, Cleveland gave officers an 11% raise over three years in their new union contract. The city also loosened rules regarding beards, ball caps, and tattoos.
Ward 5 Councilman Richard Starr agreed with Polensek that more needs to be done to retain and recruit police officers, but said he strongly supported the changes made by the administration.
“That is exactly what we need," Starr said. "Those are the stuff we need to be having highlighted as ads. Things that separate us, to make someone want to understand why you want to join this police department."
During the meeting, Ward 1 Councilman Joe Jones expressed concern that despite the efforts to boost officer pay, Cleveland is still failing to provide a basic city service.
"One of the most important things that, this, for me and my family is being safe," he said. "And I quite don't feel safe in my city."