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Cleveland mayor proposes cutting 148 police positions in 2024

 Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.

For the second year, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced that he plans to cut unfilled police positions to make way for pay raises for to retain and recruit officers.

Last year, the city budgeted for 1,498 officers. This year's proposed budget would hire 1,350 — 148 fewer.

Even though the cut positions are currently unfilled, that decision worries some Cleveland City Council members like Public Safety Chair Mike Polensek.

"The issue here is the number of officers patrolling our streets. We are at an all-time low," Polensek said. "It affects our neighborhoods. The council president and other members are struggling to keep businesses in their community or residents who feel that they're not safe."

Last year, Cleveland Division of Police saw 165 departures and only 21 new hires, even after Bibb and police unions agreed to pay raises for police and cadetsin the hopes of attracting more officers.

The proposed reduction in headcount, however, will not impact the division’s day-to-day, said the city’s Finance Director Ahmed Abonamah, as those positions are currently unfilled and the budget still leaves 181 vacancies for the upcoming year.

"We knew were going to have to do this when we agreed to the historic wage increases that we provided to the members of the police last fall," Abnonamah said. "Our resources are finite.

Those wage increases are intended to retain and, ultimately, grow the division of police, which has not been able to keep up with departures, Abonamah said. If all vacancies are filled, it will cost the city nearly $15 million more in wages and bonuses as compared to previous pay rates.

In 2023, Cleveland struggled to hire all the officers it had budgeted for. In August, the department employed 1,226 uniformed officers — about 200 fewer than planned.

"The continued reduction of Cleveland’s police force advocated by the administration is concerning," Council President Blaine Griffin said in a written statement." Last year, Council accepted cuts with the understanding the city would work with an external marketing agency to recruit new officers. We are waiting for the results from their work."

What else is in the budget?

The budget proposal, Bibb's third since entering office in 2022, details nearly $780 million in the city's general fund operating expenses.

Notably, the budget adds funding for full-time security at the city’s recreation centers, a $3 million addition to the tree-damage sidewalk program and added staffing to the Department of Development.

"We've kind of moved out of the crisis phase of the pandemic and post-pandemic world," Abonamah said. "Our revenues are growing modestly, and that's giving us the ability to make real investments in quality of life, issues that matter to our residents, in a way that we've not always been able to.

Cleveland City Council will begin hearings after Presidents' Day before finalizing the 2024 budget.

Updated: February 1, 2024 at 5:22 PM EST
This story has been updated to include comment from Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin.
Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.