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Cleveland police on track to receive raises, change in discipline on hold

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.

As Cleveland City Council began considering raises for Cleveland police officers at its safety committee meeting Wednesday, council members appeared to support the proposal from Mayor Justin Bibb.

In an amendment to contracts with the unions representing patrol officers and supervisors, Bibb offered raises to all officers up to the rank of commander. In return, the unions agreed to 12-hour shifts for patrol units. The contract is set to expire in March 2025.

City Finance Director Ahmed Abonamah told council the union negotiation that led to the proposed raises was different than a typical contract negotiation.

“Instead of kind of coming in with opening proposals and working our way toward an agreement, we started with identifying the issues and having really candid conversations about them and discussing a variety of solutions to them,” Abonamah said.

One of those issues was the struggle to recruit new officers, city officials said. The department is about 300 officers short of its budgeted number. It has been unable to recruit fast enough to keep up with officers leaving the department since the pandemic disrupted recruiting.

The raises, which would bump base pay for an entry-level officer from close to $60,000 per year to $62,600 and increase the maximum salary of a commander from $131,000 to almost $153,000, are one part of the agreement with the unions.

Pay for cadets in the academy increased earlier this year from $16 an hour to about $24 an hour. The city also provided perks for former military or recruits with a bachelor’s degree.

Police Chief of Staff Dorothy Todd told the council the department is already seeing benefits since members voted to approve the changes in October.

“Since the contract has been voted in, we’ve seen an increase in recruitment, an increase in interest in our recruitment,” Todd said.

Abonamah estimates the raises will cost the city about $10.4 million per year, but would save money for the city elsewhere in the budget.

“We absolutely anticipate overtime declining as a result,” Abonomah said.

The department currently uses three staggered shifts each day — one 8-hour and two 10-hour shifts.

Under the agreement, there would be only two patrol shifts each day.

Todd told council the two, 12-hour shifts a day will increase officers on patrol during each shift from about 400 to about 600.

Todd said the only negative response the department received from patrol officers was a concern about the loss of overtime.

During the safety committee meeting, officials also discussed a change to the department's discipline policy that was also part of negotiations with the union. The city is putting that change on hold because that provision may be a violation of the police consent decree.

Under the agreement with the union, low-level infractions found during an investigation into civilian complaints, which were not committed by the original subject of the complaint, will not result in discipline.

The monitor overseeing the consent decree and the U.S. Department of Justice raised concerns about that change — particularly that infractions by certain officers found under certain circumstances would not be disciplined while the same infractions found under other circumstances would still be subject to discipline.

The city said in a statement it “is evaluating options and working together to come to an agreement that adheres to the intentions of the consent decree.” If an agreement is reached, that change to discipline would still go in front of council.

The proposed raises go to the finance committee next before a final vote by the full council. If approved, raises take effect January 1 and will be in place at least until the current union contracts expire March 31, 2025.

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