SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) — Shaker Heights is a city of around 30,000 people and one of the oldest suburbs of Cleveland.

There are 68 police officers on patrol.

A proposed charter amendment would change that and would instead put 35 mental health counselors on the streets and change how Shaker police operate and add more oversight.

“We’re proactively expanding our crisis intervention team. We’re setting up a department that can handle reactions to incidents that happen that may be bad which is setting up our civilian oversight board which is members of our community that is approved by our city council that would look over when police officers are using their gun or using force.”

Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing campaign manager Ethan Khorana says their drive is to combat an underlying bias in Shaker police against people of color.

The charter amendment would create a citizen-run oversite board, hire 35 mental health counselors, and create an online arrest and ticketing database.

He says most of the tickets and arrests in Shaker are against people of color.

“Right now, 71% of our tickets are going against black drivers…and close to 100 percent of police use of force is against people of color, and since 2020, over the past three years our police officers’ use of force has doubled,” Khorana said.

Khorana says their calculations show that expanding crisis intervention would cost about 3.5 million dollars and that estimate is based on a program currently used in Amherst, Massachusetts.  

He says the city could pay for it through its current 23-million-dollar budget surplus and by restructuring the police budget taxes would not have to go up. 

But the City of Shaker and its police force dispute all of the claims.

Shaker’s police chief says they are not targeting anyone.

Chief Wayne Hudson says the department in 2015 specifically looked at claims of bias and restructured how the department initiated traffic stops.

He says 84% of the tickets they issue are for non-Shaker residents.

“They decided to get away from non-hazardous offenses and concentrate on hazardous offenses, speeding, running stop signs and lights. So what we concentrate on is hazardous behavior, not race. That’s what we’re stopping; that’s what citing,” Chief Hudson said.

Chief Hudson says the fine print in the charter initiative would be disastrous and make things unsafe.

He says hiring counselors would mean the elimination of 35 police officers, which is about half of the force.

He says the oversight board would get rid of elected control over city police and other services.

And he says it would cost more than $6 million a year more than the current police budget.

Chief Hudson says the department already has a counselor on staff to help with mental health calls, has always been open to community involvement, and is proactive in handling complaints from anyone.

He says the claims they make in their push for change just don’t add up.

“I’ve done the research. I’ve taken a hard look at the numbers. We don’t have the kind of problem that we’re asking for in this initiative. What he has is a solution in search of a problem for them to put together this ballot initiative that is untested. There is not one jurisdiction nationwide, not one that has everything that he’s asking for so why should Shaker Heights be a social experiment,” Chief Hudson said.

Khorana says their group is actively collecting signatures and hopes to have the necessary number very soon. 

If successful, the initiative should go on the ballot in November.

Read the city’s position on the charter amendments here.

Read the ballot language.