CLEVELAND (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has uncovered a big delay in getting help to hire new police officers even as we’ve found Cleveland police short almost 300 officers.

Wednesday, a very small class of 17 rookies graduated.

So, we went there and checked up on a city hall promise to hire outside help to work toward filling the officer shortage.

After the ceremony, we approached the safety director, yet he scrambled away avoiding questions.

As of Wednesday, Cleveland police records showed the department is 299 officers short.

Back in August, the chief told the I-Team that the city planned to hire a marketing firm to help recruit officers, but the city just started to look for a company days ago.

“Again, four months when we’re talking about saving people’s lives with officers. It takes four months. How is that not the number one issue with the administration?” said Johnny Lis, who owns Pizza 216 downtown.

When we asked about police presence downtown, Lis said, “We don’t see it. We don’t see it anymore.”

In fact, a downtown resident sparked a firestorm recently after he sent an email to city officials about downtown police protection.

“Never felt as unsafe living here as I have felt the past few months,” he wrote.

In the time since city leaders told us they would start looking for help with police recruiting,  look at what else has jumped ahead of that.

City hall started looking for companies to develop new plans for the lakefront, new uses for the Burke Lakefront Airport property, new plans for city parks, plans for modernizing parking meters and revitalizing an old golf course.

We followed Safety Director Karrie Howard as he left the police graduation ceremony, asking about the delay in looking for a marketing firm for recruiting.

We asked why it’s taken so long. Then, a woman with Howard tried to step in and stop the questioning.

“We’re just trying to get some answers about recruiting,” we responded.

The I-Team has revealed before that when you call for police in Cleveland, you often are waiting longer for help.

Nationwide, police have struggled to recruit. Yet, again, the City of Cleveland took four months to seek outside help.

While the new rookie class includes only 17 officers, the next training class for Cleveland police includes only 14.