At-Large Councilman George Poe met with police officers Monday during the break between a Council work session and formal voting session.
The cost of hiring and equipping a new police officer would be approximately $67,000 plus the cost of a vehicle, for an estimated $105,000.
Poe recommended having new officers patrol in two-man units for up to a year, which would meet the goal of putting more officers on a shift. Having two officers in the same car would be cheaper than two units dispatched to domestic violence and burglaries in progress. But, on some shifts, the department has only four officers available to respond to calls.
“Sometimes we are only able to respond to these calls with one officer and it puts them in a dangerous position,” Capt. David Bishop said.
Poe pointed out having two-man units would allow the driver to watch the road while the rider serves as an observer.
At-Large Councilman Richard Banks said during a discussion in the formal meeting, “It is important for us to recognize that public safety is one of the things our citizens want first foremost.”
Banks referred to a letter to each of the councilmen written by Lt. Mark Gibson and signed by 78 of the 83 sworn officers on the force.
“That’s the lowest number of sworn officers in 15 years?” Banks asked.
Fourth District Councilman David May said, “Did we not ask them to make cuts? The reason we’re in this shape is this body asked them to make cuts (due to the downturn in the economy).”
The police officers asked the Council to examine the need to fill vacancies and have a tentative plan in place to increase the number of officers to meet the needs of a growing city.
“We also respectfully ask that the city budget for step raises in the upcoming year,” Gibson wrote. “We are hopeful that with your help we can begin to move forward and regain the ground that has been lost. We appreciate all that you do and respect the decisions that are made. We are hopeful that we can work together and continue to make Cleveland a great place to live, work and serve.”
Gibson, who is a member of the Human Resource Committee, is a 15-year veteran. He described a proud department he feels “is as good as any in the nation, and better than most.”
But, he wrote, during the past 15 years he has watched the city grow and prosper while the police department has shrunk. While he commended city leaders, he stated, “I have been approached by members of the Cleveland Police Department and have had numerous discussions with employees ... concerned with the future of Cleveland Police Department and other departments that serve the public.
“Over the past several years we have seen tremendous growth of business and an increase in the size of Cleveland both in population and square miles. We read in the paper on a weekly basis about the city's continued growth and prosperity. Cleveland continues to grow, but the numbers of police officers have dropped.
“Currently, we have about 83 sworn officers, which happens to be the lowest number of officers in the 15 years that I have worked. We are told that these are ‘frozen’ positions and are necessary actions because of the economic condition of the city.
“Even more discouraging is there doesn't appear to be a tentative plan in place to replace those positions and build the department back.
“The decisions to reduce the number of officers are not practical with today's demands. We have obligations to be prepared for emergency events. Having the manpower and resources to address emergencies is not an option. Citizens expect their police department to be prepared and trained to address any threat to their community. If and when events happen, we are the ones critiqued on our response. A growing city can't sacrifice their police and gamble with the safety of our officers and the citizens of Cleveland.”
Gibson explained that city employees haven't received a step raise in the last four years and again there doesn't seem to be a plan in place for step raises.
“We are also being told that step raises are not probable for the next three years. We hear about the lack of money that the city has but we see new businesses and read about the economic growth of Cleveland. It is hard to find a restaurant without a wait on the weekends. This makes it difficult to understand why we have fewer officers with no increase in pay as it relates to step raises,” the letter stated.
He said the demands of the job take a physical and mental toll on officers. Long hours and lack of days off only add to physical and mental stress.
“We have a generation of new officers and new supervisors that have never received a step raise while with this department. This will and has affected the quality of services that the citizens of Cleveland deserve,” he continued. “Our goal is to serve our community in the most professional manner as possible. The Cleveland Police Department is CALEA accredited and takes pride in the professionalism of its officers and their specialized abilities. We operate independently and are fortunate to operate without having to depend on other law enforcement agencies. We have members that have the ability and talents to conduct police actions without relying on state, federal or local agencies. We are self-sufficient in many aspects of law enforcement. In fact, we are requested to provide specialized service to other agencies” frequently.
“Our department has worked hard over the years to recruit and train the most qualified applicants. The consistent growth and the competitive pay have allowed our department to progress in such a positive way.”