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Cleveland police look to curfew and technology to combat crime wave

Man in suit and horn rimmed glasses looks at camera
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Homicides are up in four out five police districts compared to 2022, according to data from the Cleveland Division of Police. Cleveland Public Safety Director Karrie Howard discussed Cleveland's spike in crime at an Aug. 3, 2023, city council Safety Committee meeting.

Cleveland City Council came back from its summer recess for a special meeting this week on the city’s ongoing crime wave.

Members pressured police officials to hire additional officers but Chief Wayne Drummond said they won’t even be able to keep up with the number of officers leaving.

The department currently has 1,231 officers. The city’s 2023 budget funds close to 1,500 positions.

“Are we going to reach those numbers? No. Absolutely not,” Chief Wayne Drummond told council.

The department may not even be able to stay above 1,200.

Three academy classes this year are scheduled to graduate 37 new officers, while 99 officers have already left the department. According to department figures, an additional 250 officers are eligible for retirement, meaning they’ve served 25 years and are at least 52 years old.

The city recently hired a marketing firm and is seeking to increase pay for cadets while in the academy to try and reverse the declining police rolls.

Council members pressured the police department to come up with a clear plan to combat another summertime spike in crime.

Homicides are up in four out five police districts compared to 2022, according to data from the Cleveland Division of Police. There have been 108 killings so far this year. At this point last year, there were 89.

Auto thefts have nearly doubled, with increases seen in all five districts.

Council President Blaine Griffin asked whether the police department could “take the gloves off” and questioned whether recent police reforms were improving safety.

“Is the reforms for Issue 24, even though I know it hasn’t heard a case yet, and the consent decree helping our city be safer?” Griffin asked.

In 2021, Clevelanders passed Issue 24, which gave the 13-member CPC broad authority over the police department. The commission has been plagued with bickering and has not yet started reviewing the department’s decisions on officer discipline, a central responsibility enshrined in the city charter.

The Cleveland Division of Police is eight years into its federal consent decree, an agreement to reform department policies on the use of force, search and seizure, crisis intervention, data collection and officer accountability. A report released earlier this year by the police commission found the city had only completed about 39% of those reforms, though the city has argued that it has made great progress and the decree should be lifted.

The 13-member Community Police Commission's most recent meeting was derailed after a dispute over naming a permanent executive director.

The police and administration officials at city council Wednesday did not respond directly to Griffin’s question about police reform’s effects on public safety in Cleveland.

Public Safety Director Karrie Howard responded that he tells officers all they need to worry about is following police policies, known as General Police Orders or GPOs.

“If you follow the GPO’s, we will have your back, and we will support you,” Howard said. “Follow the GPO’s, the other things that are above that, don’t worry about that.”

The city recently announced partnerships with federal and state law enforcement, part of what they dubbed the RISE Initiative. It also includes more aggressive enforcement in high-crime areas and the expanded use of technology like surveillance video, crime analysts and Shotspotter to combat crime.

Council members also asked the police to more aggressively enforce juvenile curfews in the city, an idea that Drummond supported.

“A part of my charge again is to make sure that individuals out there who are under 18 years of years of age who are violating our nighttime curfew ordinance are cited,” Drummond said.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.