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Crime in Cleveland going up as number of officers goes down: Mark Naymik Reports

Public records show 59 officers left this year, a faster pace than in a typical year.

CLEVELAND — Police departments across the region --  from Akron to Parma to Mansfield --are having trouble finding new recruits.

Cleveland is no different. But it also has the added problem of keeping officers who are leaving as soon as they qualify for retirement.

This has city leaders concerned because crime continues to rise as the number officers is trending down.

“We have all seen a spike in crime, from the East Side to the West Side, from the West Side to East Side and north and south, no neighborhood is immune,” Councilman Mike Polensek said during a recent safety committee hearing.

He was joined by colleagues in expressing concern for rising homicides, which are outpacing last year’s near-record number compared to the same time last year. They also complained about a decline in traffic stops and visibility of officers in the neighborhoods.

“We are hearing rumors about all the officers leaving today and that’s a request I’ll make today,” Polensek said.

Councilman Brian Kazy said the administration recently told him that 61 officers have retired, a pace ahead of a typical year.

3News received a list of retirees last week from the city that showed 59 officers have left from districts across the city.

“Police officers are doing 25 years now and they're leaving,” Jeff Follmer, president of the police union told 3News Thursday. “You know, they don't feel the support of the city, obviously, the way the United States is changing. And it's a trend. People are just kind of fed up and are moving on and getting off the job early and going on to a different career. There were a lot of police officers hired  25 to 30 years ago. So, we're going through that stage where there's a mass exodus of people eligible for retiring now. And it's tough, as you see, trying to get people to become a police officer.”

He and others cite the same issues for early retirements and fewer applicants: Changing public attitudes toward officers skewed by social media, the threat of lawsuits and worries about getting killed on the job because of more guns on the streets.

Follmer said the wave of departures and lagging recruitment is forcing mandatory overtime among patrol officers and leaving neighborhoods short changed.

“I mean, we're short now. I think we are down about 130 people, which is going to put a lot of stress on our basic patrol,” he said. “Officers will be tired and will be calling in sick. There’s just too much work. And it's really going to leave the citizens at risk.”

He went on:  “We are going out there with less cars. We have like six, seven cars overnight, when it's scheduled for 10 or 11 cars. And they get doubled up on the runs.”

Cleveland’s Safety Director Karrie Howard said acknowledged during the council hearing that attrition is high. He said the city is planning two cadet classes to make up some of the shortfall.

 “We have been dealing with attrition, and last year and the impact on forces and small classes because of complications due to Covid,” he said. “Once this class graduates, we will look to get another glass of graduates with total of about 80 officers.”

The city is holding a recruiting fair this weekend on the city east side. Follmer says recruits have to look past the negatives.

“It's still a rewarding job,” he said “And the rough times are here, I believe. But it's going to get better. I hope. If you ever thought about doing police work. We have great officers out there ready to train people.”

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