A shortage of officers in the Cleveland Division of Police is leaving detectives backlogged with property crime cases and victims vulnerable to attack.
When someone smashed the glass front door last week at the Astoria Cafe and Market on Detroit Avenue, owner Steve Daniels said he was happy to see a patrol officer respond within minutes, but added it took 29 hours for a detective to follow up and dust for prints.
VIDEO: West side burglar caught on camera (again)
“They did say that they were understaffed, that they were trying to get here as quick as possible,” Daniels said. “I know we pay our taxes. We need more.”
Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Steve Loomis said the city staffs just one or two detectives per day to process crime scenes citywide.
“It’s absolutely insane,” Loomis said.
The latest crime could be connected to a string of other business break-ins on the city’s west side. The detective shortage forced Daniels to leave the overturned register, bottles of wine and broken glass undisturbed all day with a restaurant full of customers.
Loomis said delays like that can leave crime scenes contaminated and the evidence collected inadmissible in court.
"If it’s good DNA evidence and we know somebody was there, but that was an unsecured crime scene for a day and a half,” Loomis said, “That’s going to get thrown out in a suppression hearing very, very easily.”
The shortage is a problem Police Chief Calvin Williams acknowledged at a budget hearing in March.
“Our current numbers right now are low,” Williams told city council members.
He said, despite last year’s income tax increase that was passed by voters, it will take years to recruit and fill hundreds of open positions. He’s also prioritizing adding basic patrol officers over filling specialized units.
“If we were to fill them, it would come from basic patrol, so that, in effect, leaves 40 people on patrol that can’t be on bike patrol, on foot patrol and answer calls for service,” Williams said.
In the meantime, small business owners are taking every precaution they can.
“To have cameras, to have alarm systems,” Daniels said, “That’s protecting yourself.”
A Cleveland police commander told News 5 officers did arrest a man and a woman in connection with a string of recent break-ins, but News 5 did not immediately hear back from a police spokesperson to learn more information.