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Two private police departments operate in Cleveland without authorizing agreements with the city

The free ride initiative covers bus, rail and paratransit travel all day Nov. 3.
Isaiah Paik
Ideastream Public Media
A Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bus in Cleveland.

As Cleveland City Council weighs whether to expand the area patrolled by two of Cleveland’s non-municipal police departments, increased scrutiny is falling on oversight of those small, private agencies.

Of the 11 non-municipal police agencies working in Cleveland, only the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and Cleveland Metroparks do not have authorizing agreements with the city that establish the departments' boundaries.

In 2018, elements from the Cleveland police consent decree were added to the nine other agreements including use-of-force policies that match the city’s. The nine departments also had to train officers in areas like crisis intervention and bias-free policing and establish a system for investigating civilian complaints.

An earlier version of this story, first published on April 15, identified GCRTA’s police as the only department without an agreement with the city. At the time, Metroparks was contacted for comment. A spokesperson said they have an agreement, but a public records request with the city for all of the agreements, known as a memorandum of understanding, showed no MOU with Metroparks either.

Metroparks did not respond to a follow-up request for clarification on May 3.

In a statement, GCRTA acknowledged it is working without an MOU.

“GCRTA Transit Police continues to work with the City in all aspects, including law enforcement for daily operations and special events affecting the residents of Greater Cleveland,” interim GCRTA spokesman Robert Fleig said via email.

GCRTA’s last agreement with the city was not renewed in 2018.

Cleveland's interim Chief of Police Wayne Drummond has the authority to cancel any of the authorizing agreements between the city and departments run by Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth, Tri-C, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, University Circle and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.

“If allegations or information comes to our attention that those things are not being adhered to then obviously we have the ability to pull the memorandums of understanding from those particular agencies,” Drummond said.

It’s not clear the city could take any actions to prevent GCRTA police from operating within city boundaries.

According to Chris Martin of Clevelanders for Public Transit, GCRTA police only have agreements with Cleveland State University and East Cleveland.

“Cuyahoga County taxpayers pay nearly $15 million every year for GCRTA police without those agreements in place,” Martin said.

He first became interested in GCRTA’s authority when he noticed there were transit police assisting during the May 30, 2020 protests in Downtown Cleveland.

Agreements with other police agencies expire later this year.

Members of Cleveland City Council said this week they want stricter oversight and want all departments to start using body cameras.

Updated: May 3, 2022 at 1:37 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include new information regarding Metroparks' lack of an MOU with Cleveland police. The story previously identified the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority as the only department without an agreement. The story also includes new information that RTA’s last agreement with the city was not renewed in 2018.
Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.