CLEVELAND – As supporters cheer the approval of Issue 24, which created a charter amendment giving civilians increased oversight of Cleveland Police, opponents said the amendment will make city streets less safe.
The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association said it will go to court to fight discipline handed down to officers under the new structure, setting up potential conflict with Mayor-elect Justin Bibb as he vows to bring all sides together.
Cleveland voters Tuesday approved Issue 24 by a wide 59%-41% margin, according to unofficial results from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Supporters, including some families of people killed by Cleveland police officers and Bibb, welcomed the result.
“We are living in a national reckoning moment in our country right now about policing, and I think it’s time to calm down the rhetoric and just be honest about how we move forward on policing,” Bibb said.
The amendment will give Bibb and appointed civilian boards increased power.
It calls for the mayor to appoint 13 people to a commission with final authority over police training and officer discipline. The commission will oversee misconduct investigations conducted by a civilian board, with the mayor appointing five of the board’s nine members.
Outgoing Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams opposed the ballot issue, which removes power from the Division of Police to conduct its own internal investigations and issue discipline.
Ahead of the election, Bibb said he planned to hire a new chief of police. In a post-election interview with FOX 8 News Wednesday, Bibb vowed to listen to the concerns of a police force largely opposed to Issue 24.
“As your mayor, I’m going to have your back,” Bibb said to the city’s police officers. “I’m going to fight with you and for you, and I’m going to fight with and for our residents, too. We have to come together.”
CPPA President Jeff Folmer said the amendment will only worsen ongoing staffing shortages within the division. So far this year, 156 officers have left the force, including 13 in the last month alone, according to Folmer. Those positions haven’t been filled.
Folmer said nearly 300 additional officers are currently eligible to retire, and he predicted a dire staffing situation by spring.
“If we’re down 300 to 400 like predicted, it’s going to cripple our police department and it’s going to cripple patrols,” Folmer said. “It’s going to cripple how things are followed up on.”
Folmer said Cleveland officers are underpaid compared to suburban departments and won’t want to be judged by civilians who have never worked in law enforcement.
“This was all about vengeance and getting power. There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Folmer said of Issue 24. “Probably one of the worst days ever to have this group that hates police win this and try to take control of us.”
He said the union will challenge any officer discipline that violates its union contract in court and expects the contract will trump the charter amendment.
“It takes away everything our contract says on just cause, and it’s going to be about opinion, not facts,” Folmer said.
Folmer and Bibb both said Cleveland police officers need to be paid more. Bibb said officers also need more tools and equipment to do their job.