CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Amid surging crime levels, including a dramatic increase in homicides, the Cleveland City Council committee in charge of police oversight is getting a new chairperson.
Ward 6 councilman Blaine Griffin has taken over for Matt Zone as the head of the Safety Committee.
Zone resigned last month from council to take a leadership position at a nonprofit.
“Being safety chair is going to be one of the toughest challenges that I’ve ever experienced,” Griffin told 19 News. “We’re experiencing one of the biggest challenges that I’ve seen since the crack-cocaine era.”
According to unofficial 19 News records, there have been 175 homicides within the city so far in 2020. There were just 118 in all of 2019.
Griffin, who was elected to city council in 2017, has witnessed the effects of crime and violence firsthand.
“A resident called me and said, ‘Councilman, there’s a dead body lying right next to my house.’ “he recalled. “The stories I see are the carnage of young black males that are dying at a disproportionate rate. I actually went to the crime scene. I’ve seen some of these young men that are victims of crime, and I’ve seen the carnage and trauma it causes the community.”
A veteran member of the Cleveland Police Department recently described the crime wave to 19 News as “insanity,” even suggesting frustration within the department.
“We won’t address any of these systemic problems until we address morale within the department,” Griffin said. “When I go to a scene, and I see a dead body sitting on the ground... I see the looks on the officers’ eyes.”
During a press briefing at city hall, 19 News asked Chief Calvin Williams about the morale.
“Everybody in the city has been through a lot this year and the things leading up to this year. I think our officers are doing well. I think they go out there day in and day out and do their job the best they can,” he said.
The Safety Committee works with the administration and police department on budget and staffing.
“As chairman of a committee, you do your job. I fully expect councilman Griffin to do his job,” said Mayor Frank Jackson, a former councilman himself. “[Griffin’s] past history has been that he is understanding of the issues and has a grasp of what needs to be done, and he performs his function in council that is of great assistance to us.”
“He doesn’t need my advice,” the mayor quipped.
But Griffin admits there will be times when the committee has to stand up and challenge the administration.
“We need to diversify our workforce; we want to make sure we look at policies and procedures. Nothing is off the table,” said Griffin. “I don’t want to be a person who just pounds the table. I want to be a person that gives the community the results and safety they deserve.”
So what does the community deserve?
“A lot of this is [about] social issues,” Griffin said. “Until we deal with things like poverty, education, recreation -- until we deal with some quality of life issues to really change the narrative and thought process of so many people, and [provide] culturally specific programming to really try to help people in our community understand that it’s a lot broader than just relying on police to arrest individuals who commit crimes, we’re going to continue to be in this situation.”
Griffin was tapped to lead the Safety Committee last week.