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Cleveland Won't Defund Police, Mayor Frank Jackson Says

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions at a Thursday news conference broadcast on Facebook Live. [City of Cleveland]
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions at a Thursday news conference broadcast on Facebook Live.

Mayor Frank Jackson will not defund Cleveland’s police department, he said Thursday, but his administration will keep following a federal consent decree aimed at curbing the use of excessive force by police.

Activists across the country have called for cuts to law enforcement budgets — or even the abolition of police forces — in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. Jackson rejected such ideas in a wide-ranging press conference, but said he does support reforming police departments.

“We’re not going to defund the police,” Jackson said. “Because when you get robbed, you’re going to want the police. If you get assaulted, you’re going to want the police. If your house is broken into, you’re going to want the police.”

The main question, Jackson said, is police behavior.

“The issue is, how do the police behave when they come to an incident, and whether or not they behave professionally, constitutionally, or do they use force in a non-excessive way,” he said.

Cleveland has increased law enforcement spending in recent years, using money from a 2016 income tax hike  to increase the force to 1,600 officers. City council members have pressed Jackson’s administration to hire more detectives dedicated to investigating homicides and sexual assaults.

One council member, first-term Councilman Basheer Jones, said the debate on defunding the department could spur more changes to local policing.

“We have to absolutely look at how we are policing, and it's not working,” Jones said during a City Club of Cleveland conversation Wednesday.

The city remains under a federal consent decree mandating changes to how the Cleveland Division of Police uses force, conducts searches and performs other duties. Cleveland signed on to the agreement after a 2014 U.S. Justice Department probe found evidence that officers engaged in a long-standing pattern of unconstitutional practices.

Last year, a federal judge approved new policies asking officers to solve community problems by talking with residents and referring them to services.   

But such steps have not been sufficient in the eyes of many local activists. Demonstrators recently highlighted the case of Desmond Franklin, who was fatally shot by an off-duty Cleveland police officer in April. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office has asked a special prosecutor to investigate the case.

Danielle Sydnor, the head of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, told ideastream earlier this month that Franklin’s death shows “the change that we're seeking has not been accomplished yet.”

On Thursday, Jackson defended his city’s record in carrying out the consent decree, saying Cleveland has offered a model for other cities. When asked about activists who feel there has been too little change in Cleveland over recent years, Jackson said they have a case to make on the national level.

“This is institutionalized racism, and it still exists,” Jackson said. “And it’s institutionalized inequities and disparities. It still exists. There’s always more to be done, and anybody who believes that they’ve done enough, or that they’ve done it sufficiently, are mistaken. And we’re not claiming that even in the City of Cleveland, even though we have done more than others.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.