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Interim Cuyahoga County Sheriff Earning Degree To Meet New Requirements

Interim Sheriff David Schilling has been in the position since August. [Cuyahoga County Sheriff / Facebook]
A parked Cuyahoga County Sheriff police vehicle with its blue lights on

Cuyahoga County’s interim sheriff could stay in that role for another year, despite not meeting the new qualifications for the position.

An extension of Sgt. David Schilling’s appointment as interim sheriff was approved by the county’s Public Safety & Justice Affairs Committee Tuesday. The resolution now goes before the full council.

Voters earlier this month approved a charter amendment enhancing qualifications for the sheriff job. Candidates are now required to have a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement – which Schilling doesn’t have.

Schilling told the committee he’s enrolling at Cuyahoga Community College to earn a degree by the end of 2020.

“I want to achieve that and move forward into 2021, should I receive a nomination from the executive to do so,” Schilling said.

Schilling says he met with Tri-C Police Chief Clayton Harris and the school’s criminal justice department staff to discuss enrollment and counting his work experience toward his degree.

“I have a student ID number, so I'm in the process of registering for Tri-C,” he said.

The charter amendment proposal ended up on the ballot after a string of  inmate deaths and  lawsuits related to the troubled Cuyahoga County Jail and testimony from outgoing sheriff Clifford Pinkney that he was powerless to make much-needed changes.

Cuyahoga County has had four sheriffs in the nine years since voters replaced the board of commissioners and an elected sheriff with a county executive and an appointed sheriff.

Schilling took over as acting sheriff Aug. 5, following the retirement of Clifford Pinkney.

Committee members had other questions for Schilling about his qualifications for the position, including how well he’d work with other county officials.

Councilman Michael Gallagher asked Schilling if he would be comfortable saying no to the council if he feels an order isn’t what is best for the county. Schilling said he would be, although he will keep an open mind.

“I have a vision for this agency, the way I want to see it go,” Schilling says. “And I’m hoping that I’d be allowed to serve in this position with some kind of autonomy.”

Three of the four candidates for sheriff didn’t meet all of the charter qualifications. And Gallagher said the council wants someone who will meet all of them – even if that means going back to school for a degree.

“We’re looking for the best qualified individuals and we don’t want to exclude people, but if an associate’s degree stops you, then it stops you,” Gallagher said. “That’s the law now.”

The search is on for someone who can fill the sheriff’s position in the long term rather than going through more changes, Gallagher said.

“To change all that right now I think would be counterproductive, so the hope is, is that he gets those qualifications and we can move forward if he performs,” he said.

The committee also discussed the county jail’s population, which dropped to a new low of about 1,800 inmates as of Monday, according to Schilling. That count is a stark change from the overcrowding at the jail in recent years – and Schilling says that’s in part due to increased staff.

He says the jail has about 675 officers, and they’re still working to hire more.

“We’re hoping that by the end of the year, the early part of next year, that’s going to bring our number to 725 officers,” he said.

The full county council is scheduled to meet on Nov. 26.

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.