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Door To Door: A summer test for Cleveland mayor’s promise of 'real public safety and equal justice'

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, flanked by interim Police Chief Wayne Drummond, speaks at a news conference announcing a grant for police surveillance technology. [Nick Castele /  Ideastream Public Media]
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, flanked by interim Police Chief Wayne Drummond, speaks at a news conference announcing a grant for police surveillance technology.


A central premise of Justin Bibb’s mayoral campaign was that Cleveland did not have to choose between strengthening police oversight and quelling violent crime.

That was the message of his general election TV ad, in which the soon-to-be-victorious candidate declared, “We need real public safety and equal justice.”

The coming months will test the strength of both prongs of that promise.

Next month, the mayor is expected to make his 10 nominations to the new Community Police Commission, my colleague Matt Richmond reported recently.

The commission was created by the 2015 police consent decree signed with the U.S. Department of Justice. Last November, Cleveland voters elected to give the commission broad new powers over officer discipline and misconduct investigations.

In the coming summer barbecue season, I expect Cleveland City Council to give Bibb’s nominees a grilling. At an open-ended press conference last week, Council President Blaine Griffin sounded like he was getting ready to light up the coals.

“This is serious business. This commission is going to have a serious charge,” Griffin said. “We need to make sure that we have people that come to the table that don’t come with preconceived notions of what they’re going to do once they get there.”

Meanwhile, the mayor has other open seats to worry about: vacant positions in the ranks of the Cleveland Division of Police. As of late May, the officer shortage stood at 257, according to Cleveland.com. At a news conference last month, Bibb said resolving the shortage was a “core priority.”

The city hasn’t put on enough cadet classes to fill all those spots this year. But it can try to stem attrition by raising officer pay. Bibb has said he wants to give police a raise, though he hasn’t divulged details from the ongoing contract negotiations with the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.

CPPA President Jeff Follmer has lobbied publicly for higher pay. When the Fox 8 I-Team reported that Bibb had spent $30,000 on a retreat for top staffers, Follmer told the TV station, “I’m hoping everyone’s thinking about our contract when they’re doing those meetings.”

Another test facing Bibb this summer is violence.

So far this year, homicides have claimed the lives of 61 people in the city, according to the latest available police statistics. Of those, 52 people were killed with guns. The 2022 homicide numbers are slightly below last year’s figures, but are still trending higher than the city’s 7-year average.

With homicides likely to increase through the hot summer months, and with a pair of mass shootings gripping the nation’s attention, Bibb has begun talking more about gun violence.

Last week, the mayor and interim Chief of Police Wayne Drummond said they’ve told officers to spend time walking – not just driving – through neighborhoods. Cleveland also plans to spend a $1.75 million state grant on five violence interrupters, midnight basketball and other recreation programs.

This week, Bibb and his fellow big-city Ohio Democratic mayors called a news conference to denounce new GOP-backed gun laws.

Ohio law prevents cities from writing restrictive gun regulations into local code. Mayors will have to find other means to stop shootings — like Bibb’s proposal to spend part of the next round of federal stimulus money on violence prevention.

But it remains to be seen when that federal money would hit the streets. Council and the mayor haven’t passed a spending package for the second round of stimulus dollars, and summer is almost here.

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