Cleveland Police Academy Graduates 17 New Officers, City Still 300 Short

They join a force still under a Federal Consent Decree and under supervision from a newly empowered community police commission

Amid ongoing implementation of police reforms and severe understaffing issues, the Cleveland Police Academy on Wednesday graduated 17 new officers in its 151st class.

With more than 100 in attendance, including family members, council members, bag pipers, city officials and cadets, Mayor Justin Bibb swore in the new members at Public Auditorium.

For two years, Cleveland Police have been some 300 officers short of the preferred roster count—there were 1,305 as of this week. The city has struggled to make a dent in that shortage due to a variety of factors such as recruitment: Cleveland offers a starting salary lower than many major urban departments and Northeast Ohio suburbs (Beachwood, for example, starts officers at $74,504, which is $20,000 more than CPD, according to 2021 numbers).

"This is an honorable profession," Council President Blaine Griffin reminded the recruits and their families in his speech. "Public service, and being able to serve and support your fellow man and woman is an honorable profession."

With a nod toward protests over police killings here and across the country, Griffin added: "Even though I know the environment in the United States of America [is] a tough environment to be a police officer, you still have stepped up and put yourself forth for service."

Councilman Michael Polensek, the 73-year-old chair of Council's Safety Committee, made sure he was less vague.

"At a time when police officers across the country are being vilified, I want you to know, in Cleveland, we support the police department," Polensek said, impassioned. He continued to reiterate: "We support the police department."

Seventeen recruits — two women and 15 men — gave their oath to Mayor Bibb, among them 36-year-old Justin Pierce, who won the coveted Blue Coats award and who was joined at the ceremony by his wife and three kids. Pierce told Scene that while the Consent Decree, police oversight and staffing issues are undoubtedly "something we think about often," he chose to quit his job at a printing press operator and join the academy because, "I wanted to create a safter city for my family."

But staffing issues will remain a concern for the city.

The department has a dozen or so volunteer recruitment officers posted up in public venues like Tower City and the Cleveland Public Library, and a 2-percent wage increase is slated for April 2023.

But the 152nd police class, scheduled for graduation on Dec. 27, only has 14 graduates. Meanwhile, more than 180 officers have departed CPD this year.

click to enlarge Recruits salute Mayor Bibb. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Recruits salute Mayor Bibb.

The cadets join the force two months after U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver announced the Department of Justice's Consent Decree with the city will continue at least until 2024. — "It is clear that, while the city has made substantial progress," Oliver said in October. "It has not yet achieved substantial and effective compliance at this time." — and the same month city council approved the members of the Cleveland Police Commission, which was given broadened power for officer discipline and recruitment efforts by voters with the passage of Issue 24 in 2021.

Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond sounded a note of optimism for the new officers.

"I hear them recite it every day at the top of their lungs," Drummond said from the podium. "Pride, professionalism, respect, integrity, dedication, excellence. If they just remember those, they'll be okay."

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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