As homicides increase in Cleveland, number of detectives continue to dwindle
There have been 83 homicides in the city through July 23; the unit has 18 officers, but should have 38
By Olivia Mitchell
CLEVELAND — As slayings in Cleveland mount, the number of detectives investigating the deaths is a fraction of what authorities say it should be.
There have been 83 homicides in the city through July 23, according to police, though the numbers are tentative and could change with rulings from the office of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.
At the same time, the number of detectives investigating the cases is less than half of what the U.S. Justice Department says it should be. The unit has 18 officers, police officials said. It should have 38.
Homicide detectives solved about 60 percent of the cases they handled last year, Cleveland officials said. That mirrors the rates of other major departments across the country, according to published reports.
The lack of homicide detectives has been a reoccurring problem for the department for years. At one point in 2019, the department had just 14 detectives in the unit.
In 2016, a study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement research group in Washington, D.C., linked the number of homicide detectives to the declining rate of solving cases. In 2012, the department had 19 detectives and solved 77 of 100 homicides; in 2017, it had 14 officers, and they solved about half of the cases.
Today, the unit’s lack of officers is part of a much larger problem in the department: Cleveland police are down more than 200 officers, hovering at about 1,350. The city has suffered from retirements and resignations, as officers flee to suburban departments for greater pay.
Henry Hilow, an attorney for the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said the low number of detectives and officers is a systemic issue that has been growing over the past few years. Hilow said he believes the department needs better leadership from the city to amend the issue.
“The city of Cleveland right now is down so many police officers, even if you’re filling spots with detectives, you’re losing spots with patrolmen and other services,” Hilow said. “And, you know, there comes a point in time where all these issues have come together, and this is the result.”
Michael Polensek, the chairman of Cleveland City Council’s Safety Committee and the Ward 8 councilman, said when the number of homicide detectives falls below 20, it creates a difficult and stressful environment for officers, as they struggle to keep up with their caseload.
Mayor Justin Bibb has said the safety of residents is a priority, “and we are working toward that goal every day.”
Of the 83 confirmed homicides in the city, statistics show that all but a handful were committed with a gun. The medical examiner’s office is investigating 13 other deaths in which the exact locations of the slayings were unclear.
But it said the deaths “more than likely” took place in Cleveland.
At this time last year, the city had 96 slayings.
Cleveland is on track to come close to or match last year’s numbers, when 170 people were killed.
Throughout the summer months, violence in the city has risen. The city has also seen 1,604 felonious assault incidents through July 23, according to the department’s statistics. Of that, 706 involved guns.
The city has implemented many crime-reduction programs to curb violence in the city and create a better working relationship between communities and police. Police have implemented park-and-walks, where police officers get out of their vehicles and spend time walking through neighborhoods and talking with residents and business owners.
The city has also implemented more youth activities, such as basketball, football and cheerleading camps.
Hilow, however, described the increasing duties of police officers as untenable, especially with new laws that have allowed more people to carry guns.
“It’s a horrible cycle that we’ve created, and it’s imperative that we correct it,” he said.
Polensek suggested the city form a collective partnership to bring in officers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and deploy members from the sheriff’s department.
The councilman said he also believes the city should partner with the U.S. Marshals to start an initiative designed to arrest violent criminals on the street.
“These law enforcement agencies can come together and put forward a surgical plan of action against the people who are perpetrating these crimes in our neighborhoods because we know it’s the repeat offenders,” Polensek said.
“It’s a small percentage that are out there committing the majority of crimes.”