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Higher police pay in suburbs draws officers, new recruits away from Cleveland’s police department

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 11:30 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates uncovered a large disparity between police pay across Northeast Ohio.

Specifically, we discovered that local suburbs are paying police the big bucks, possibly pulling recruits away from the city of Cleveland and worsening a staffing shortage there.

Residents say they’re noticing the effects of that in the city.

Marlon Dickson says there’s a lack of patrol officers rolling through his neighborhood.

“If you don’t have the law enforced, then people do whatever they want,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel safe. It doesn’t make those in the community feel safe.”

Numbers from this July show Cleveland Police are down 187 patrol officers.

Dickson came to us with with a group of people this summer, concerned that police are not patrolling in the Lee-Harvard area enough here to stop reckless drivers from causing damage.

19 Investigates started digging deeper into the cause of the struggle to recruit officers and a shortage of officers in Cleveland after a conversation in a public safety meeting.

Councilman Charles Slife was outspoken about the issue he believes is critical to not only recruiting officers, but retaining them.

“There’s a very simple answer there. We need to pay more competitively,” he said. “It’s a failure for us to not aspire, at least, to pay our employees more.”

We requested the starting salary for rookie officers from surrounding police departments.

In Cleveland, the city says officers start out making $54,855 per year.

In Beachwood though, officers start at a salary of $74,504 per year. That’s almost $20,000 more per year, to work in an area with far less crime than Cleveland.

Safety Director Karrie Howard argues that Cleveland’s police pay is competitive with other major cities in Ohio.

For example, Cleveland’s salary comes in more than $10,000 higher per year than Canton’s for example.

“When it comes to comparing with the suburbs, that’s a different story,” Howard said.

He’s talking about Beachwood, Westlake, Rocky River, Cleveland Heights and Euclid, which all pay thousands more than Cleveland.

In addition to lower pay, the police union president pointed out to 19 Investigates that CPD has the Department of Justice overseeing their every move under the consent decree, and Cleveland officers are mandated to work a lot of overtime. So why would an officer work for CPD?

The union says right now the only draw is that CPD officers get to make a real difference and regularly fight serious, violent crime in a big city.

But, the union says the city has an upcoming opportunity to shore up the pay gap.

The current union contract runs out in April.

Our investigation revealed that the city will receive $511 million from the federal government as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

If the city uses that money to replace revenue loss during the pandemic and fund things like infrastructure improvements, could it free up money for raises, potentially helping to retain officers?

“There’s real cost to losing city employees,” Slife said. “It seems like the city of Cleveland treats its employees as disposable. We’re all windshield wipers and you can go to AutoZone and buy new windshield wipers.”

We requested the same data on starting pay from local fire departments and didn’t find as much of a disparity between city pay and suburban pay for firefighters.

But, 19 News investigator Sara Goldenberg did find fire departments are struggling to attract new recruits in general.

Friday at 6 p.m., she’ll tell you why and how some east side suburbs are banding together to solve the problem.

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