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Cleveland is short police officers. City officials hope pay increases will attract more candidates

justin bibb
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, flanked by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 8 President Jim O'Malley and Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Jeff Follmer, during a August 23, 2023 press conference announcing pay increases for police cadets.

Cleveland will pay new police officers 50% more while they’re in the training academy and will provide signing bonuses and other incentives to boost the city’s police officer ranks, city and police union leaders announced during a press conference Wednesday.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, along with members of his administration, and the leaders of the department’s two police unions — the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Fraternal Order of Police — gathered at City Hall to unveil the plan.

“Today is a positive milestone for the city and shows positive progress toward addressing our recruitment challenges inside the Cleveland Division of Police,” Bibb said.

Meetings will continue on pay increases for current officers and other measures, like adjustments to discipline policies that would require approval from the judge overseeing the consent decree and the Community Police Commission.

“We are in a war for talent right now across the country when it comes to law enforcement, and I’ve given my word as mayor that I’m not going to spare any expense to invest in public safety,” Bibb said.

The hourly pay for cadets in the department’s academy will increase during the six-month-long training program to $24 an hour. The city will also offer a $5,000 signing bonus to new cadets, with $1,000 available at the start of academy, $1,000 after graduation and the final $3,000 coming after the new officer completes their probationary period with the department, according to Bibb.

“This city has been violent. It’s still violent, and these guys and these ladies are working as hard as they can,” said Jeff Follmer, president of the patrolmen’s union. “It gets disappointing every time we get a recruitment class in there, and there’s only eight, 10, 12, 15 people in there. It’s my position and our position this is a great step toward getting officers into the city of Cleveland.”

The city will also start recruits with a college degree or military service at the Patrol Officer 3 level, one step above a typical recruit.

Those officers will receive about $3,700 more on day one and be one step closer to promotion to a supervisory rank. The city will also reimburse anyone who completes the academy run by Cuyahoga County Community College.

According to Chief Wayne Drummond, the department currently has 1,226 uniformed officers. The city’s budget provides for 1,498 officers.

Drummond told city council earlier this month the city anticipates only getting 36 cadets through the three academy classes scheduled for this year, out of 295 who applied.

The department routinely mandates overtime for officers to ensure sufficient staffing.

The increased pay for recruits could be a way to end that practice, said Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Jeff Follmer.

“You’ve got the quality already. They’re great men and women, and, hopefully, we give them a little break on this mandating and get us up to staffing here over the next couple years,” Follmer said. "It’s a long-term fix, it’s not short, but I think we’re going in the right direction."

When asked about whether, in addition to pay raises, the city was also considering loosening rules on officer discipline, Bibb said he was listening to the union leaders’ concerns.

“Both Jim [O’Malley, Fraternal Order of Police local chapter president] and Jeff really expressed some of their concerns about the level of discipline that currently exists inside the department and how that’s affecting morale and culture,” Bibb said. “I know Jim and Jeff are committed to giving our administration some tangible ideas and tangible recommendations to make sure we can continue to have thoughtful, constitutionally appropriate policing but also aggressive law enforcement to keep our city safe.”

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