Longtime Cleveland Councilman says staffing on the police department is dangerously low

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 10:25 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Recruiting and retaining police officers is an ongoing nationwide problem. But, if the city of Cleveland has 18 more officers quit or retire, a longtime councilman says the size of the police force will revert back to 1923 levels.

Michael Polensek is the Ward 8 Councilman and Chairman of the Safety Committee, “We’re at 1283 police officers (now), so if we lose another 18 we’ll be at the same level we were in 1923, which is 1,265 police officers. Now, they’ll argue that well you had more people in 1923. Of course, we did, but I can assure you they didn’t have the level of violent crime that we have. They weren’t carjacking Model T’s in 1923.”

Councilman Polensek is urging Mayor Justin Bibb to unveil or make public his policing plan for recruiting and retaining officers as we inch closer to the summer months when crime often escalates, “We are rapidly going south. In March there are only 13 people in the police academy, and in the next group so far there are only 9 recruits.”

According to a patrol officer’s analysis calculated by the city, Councilman Polensek tells 19 News that Cleveland is down 44 officers in the first police district and down 52 officers in the second district. The force is also down 41 officers in the 4th district and 39 in the 5th district and that’s just patrol officers.

But, the longtime councilman also says, “The mounted unit is decimated, and I’m told nobody is working auto theft now.”

Polensek says it’s hard to believe there are no officers working in the auto theft unit at a time when car thefts are up 116%, “We’re averaging 23 cars a day being stolen in the city. We have not seen figures like this in God knows how long.”

Councilman Polensek says the challenges of Fentanyl and other drugs have caused street and gang violence to escalate, “The shootings, the felonious assaults, as I speak to you today we have more homicides today then we had last year.”

Cleveland resident and taxpayer Randi Schofield says she feels robbed because her father Keith Schofield was critically injured after a reckless driver sent his car plunging off of an I-90 overpass. She says she was told by the traffic unit their focus is on deadly crashes, so her father’s case has never been solved, “As a taxpayer you expect a police department to protect its citizens, so, even if you couldn’t protect him from the accident happening, you could have at least helped him with some justice.”

But, according to Councilman Polensek, the main issue is that no one is clear on Mayor Justin Bibb’s police plan after 14 months in office, and according to the longtime councilman, hiring more police is critical for public safety, as well as the safety of the officers working overtime just to answer the large volume of calls for service.

“If there’s gunshots in neighborhoods people don’t even call anymore because they know they’re not going to get any response,” Councilman Polensek said.

19 News did reach out to the Mayor, Cleveland Police, and the President of the Patrolman’s Union.

A representative with Mayor Bibb’s office is efforting interviews for sometime next week to address the Mayor’s policing plan and what’s being done to recruit and retain police officers in Cleveland.