Apr 13, 2023 - News

Cleveland police reveal blueprint for aggressive recruitment

Illustration of a police uniform standing with no person inside it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

At any given moment, 285 members of Cleveland's division of police could retire without warning.

  • That's how many have served at least 25 years — the threshold for retirement.

Why it matters: As Cleveland faces an aging police force, with nearly 500 officers over 50, and attrition within its ranks, recruitment efforts have failed to attract the next generation, stymied by both the economy and negative public perception.

Driving the news: Cleveland's public safety brass appeared before City Council yesterday to reveal the current staffing numbers and to provide a blueprint for enhanced recruitment.

By the numbers: The division of police currently employs 1,270 patrol officers and leaders, but is budgeted for 1,500.

  • The division has funding for 180 new recruits in 2023, but the current academy class — which began in December 2022 and is the first of two cohorts this year — has only 13 cadets.
  • The second class is tentatively scheduled to begin next week, and leaders are hoping to secure close to 20 cadets before it begins.

What they're saying: Safety committee chair Mike Polensek said he'd never seen recruitment numbers so low in more than 40 years on City Council.

  • "This isn't the NBA," he said. "We don't get to draft our police officers. They have to apply. … We all have to have the same goal to fill these critical ranks."

State of play: Cleveland public safety director Karrie Howard unveiled a five-point plan for attracting new officers.

  1. Streamline the application and testing process to reduce the length of time from six months or more to three months.
  2. Enlist the support of local news outlets.
  3. Take a "customer service approach" to walk applicants through the hiring process step by step.
  4. Collaborate with CMSD and local colleges to create a stronger pipeline of students interested in public safety careers.
  5. Engage a professional marketing company to improve messaging.

"Typically, our recruiting would compete with other [police] jurisdictions and the military," Howard said. "Now, we're competing with Walmart, Amazon, Giant Eagle and Fortune 500 companies for a much smaller population."

Between the lines: The Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association recently held a vote of no confidence in Howard after he made comments about the historical prevalence of Irish people in Cleveland's police and fire departments during a speech at Word Church to attract more Black men to apply.

The bottom line: Howard said the division would continue to be rigorous in its vetting process and would not sacrifice quality for quantity.

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