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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams announces his resignation

Updated: 7:33 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams has confirmed he is resigning. His last day will be Jan. 3, 2022.

"This is my last official act as the chief of this division," Williams said in an emotional announcement at a police awards ceremony Thursday. "I’m going to miss you guys."

Williams said he previously told Mayor Frank Jackson and members of the command staff about his decision, tied to the election of a new mayor.

"This summer when the mayor announced that he would not run… I talked to him after that and basically said, ‘If you’re not running, Mayor, I’m out the door with you.' And I meant that."

Williams has been police chief since 2014. He grew up in Cleveland and was first hired as an officer in 1986.

"If this mayor wasn’t going to be sitting in that seat in 2022," Williams said pointing to the front row, "I wouldn’t be sitting in the seat next to him."

Williams announced Thursday at the police awards ceremony, this would be his last official act. [TV20]

In his Thursday speech, Williams praised the force for its handling of difficult events during his tenure, including the throngs of people in Downtown Cleveland during the Cavs' championship parade in 2016 and for peacekeeping during the Republican National Convention that same summer.

"I’m going to miss you because you do a great job," Williams said, wiping away tears. "You make us proud and you get out there and you do a great job for us day in and day out. And people don’t realize how hard it is, but I do and I thank you for that and I appreciate that."

Cleveland's Mayor-elect Justin Bibb has said previously he would replace Williams.

Seven years leading the Cleveland Division of Police

When Williams became police chief in 2014, the city was a little more than a year past the infamous 137 shots incident, where 62 police vehicles chased and eventually killed two unarmed people in East Cleveland, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Ten months into Williams' tenure, the U.S. Department of Justice released its report finding a "pattern and practice of using unnecessary and excessive force." The following year, the city formally agreed to sweeping reforms under the consent decree, which the police department is still trying to complete, six years later.

Williams has overseen dramatic reforms under the consent decree. The department has changed the way it trains and handles use of force incidents and incidents involving people in a mental health crisis. They’ve overhauled the investigation of citizen complaints and handing out of discipline against police.

But the question remains whether community perception of the department has changed.

Among Williams’ high points was the widely hailed professionalism shown by Cleveland police during the Republican National Convention in 2016.

"We have, since 2014 when I became chief, we’ve been through some trying times. We’ve also been through some great, sometime hilarious, but momentous times here in this city together," Williams said Thursday recalling the 2016 Cavaliers victory parade and the RNC a month later. "This division did what it does best. We took on the charge and we took care of business."

For many Clevelanders, Williams’ greatest failure is the crime rate, especially violent crime. The year Williams took over, there were 102 murders in Cleveland. Since then, the city has seen at least 120 murders a year, with the number ballooning to 177 in 2020.

In the months leading up to the November general election, Williams argued against Issue 24, the city charter amendment that would give expanded powers to the Community Police Commission over police policies and discipline. He told city council it was "bad, bad legislation" and predicted if it passed, officers would leave "in droves."

The issue passed by a wide margin this week.

At the awards ceremony two days later, Williams praised his division and the sacrifices officers have made.

"I don’t think the public realizes what we go through in our careers," he said. "The folks that are getting awards, keep doing it. Keep making us proud. Keep this city safe."

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.