Cleveland police unions agree to 12-hour shifts, major pay raises
High crime and low staffing drove the city to accept 12-hour shifts when they had previously rejected them over safety concerns
By Courtney Astolfi
CLEVELAND — Mayor Justin Bibb and the Cleveland police unions say they’ve reached a new agreement that will move officers to 12-hour shifts and boost their pay, including a major salary bump for veteran cops that union leaders describe as unprecedented.
Members of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, representing rank-and-file officers, and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 8, representing police supervisors, approved the move in a Thursday vote, capping off a summer of negotiations amid some of the highest crime rates — and lowest staffing numbers — Cleveland has seen in decades.
With the longer shifts, City Hall is trying to find a better way to handle short-staffing in a department that’s losing officers more quickly than it can replace them. The pay increases are an attempt to keep current cops from leaving, and recruit more new ones, to prevent the force from shrinking even further.
“We all know the status quo is not sustainable. We have to innovate, to get out of that status quo, and improve our ability to deliver,” Bibb’s finance chief, Ahmed Abonamah, told The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com during a joint interview this week with CPPA President Jeff Follmer and FOP President Jim O’Malley.
The deal – passed by CPPA members in a 618-to-200 vote – means more officers will be working at any given time, compared to the current staffing model, Abonamah said. Instead of three shifts each day that are eight or 10 hours long, most of the department’s roughly 1,200 officers will now be split into two 12-hour shifts.
Longer shifts raise obvious safety concerns, given the high-pressure, high-stakes nature of the job. CPPA rejected the idea back in February, when it was previously pitched by Bibb. But substantial wage hikes offered this time around — described by Follmer as “unheard of” — likely helped usher the deal across the finish line.
The highest-ranking officers – those with at least five years in the department, and all supervisors – will receive a roughly 14% increase to their base pay under the agreement. Lower-ranking officers will receive a 2.5% increase. Taken together with an 11% three-year pay bump negotiated last year, the highest-ranking officers will have seen their wages increase by nearly 25% since Bibb took office, and lower-ranking officers will have seen a nearly 14% bump.
In other words, since 2022, rank-and-file officer salaries will have moved from the range of $55,000-$68,000 to $63,000-$84,000.
Current top salaries rank in the middle of the pack statewide, but with the new increases, top Cleveland wages will be higher than those at three-quarters of Ohio’s police departments, Abonamah said. Though wages remain higher in Columbus, Cincinnati and some Northeast Ohio suburbs, the new top figures put Cleveland ahead of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority police, Akron police and others, he said.
That’s key, because many younger officers who leave Cleveland do so because wages are too low, and they can earn more elsewhere, Follmer said, citing exit interviews. It’s gotten to the point where even higher-paid supervisors are leaving Cleveland to become rank-and-file officers elsewhere, according to O’Malley.
“Some of these younger guys are really bright minds in the department, and I don’t want to lose them,” O’Malley said. “I think the (wage increases) will make them rethink and stick around.”
The increases are part of a two-prong wage strategy aimed at maintaining — and, ideally, growing — the size of Cleveland police. In August, Bibb and the unions reached a different agreement that boosted wages for trainees and allowed those with college degrees or military veterans to enter the force at a higher rate of pay. That was intended to be a recruitment tool, and applications have ticked up in recent weeks, a spokesman said. City officials hope that shoring up the top wages will help recruit too, but it’s also heavily aimed at hanging on to existing officers.
Interestingly, Follmer said the move to 12-hour shifts might also delay retirements next summer among the 200 to 250 current officers who are retirement-age. In his view, that’s because short-staffing under the current schedule could prompt more colleagues to leave, and retirement-eligible officers might not want to stay if it means an even higher workload.
As for the broad logic behind the change to 12-hour shifts, City Hall and the unions hope it will help officers stave off burnout and save the city money overall.
While shifts now are technically eight or 10 hours, short-staffing means many officers are forced to work overtime to make up for the vacancies, or they choose to work extra, to earn more money. The result, at times, means some officers are working up to 16 hours or more in a day, sometimes four or five times a week, or on weekend days when they’d otherwise be off, Follmer said.
With 12-hour days, they’ll be working longer standard shifts. But city officials and union heads hope that arrangement proves to be less stressful than current overtime demands.
One outcome is officers will receive 18 to 26 weekends off each year and, in some cases, three days off in a row, Abonamah said. Officers at each of the city’s five police districts were allowed to choose whether they work three days on and three days off, or whether they rotate between blocks of two- or three-days on, and the same number off.
For the first year of implementation, the city and unions said they will evaluate whether different schedules at different districts are feasible, or whether all districts should eventually move to the same 12-hour schedules.
Either way, the new 12-hour approach will mean more concentrated hours of work as a matter of course for patrol officers who routinely handle life-and-death situations.
Asked whether they have any safety concerns about the move, Follmer and Abonamah said, in theory, it should be better than the current set-up, in which some are working lots of overtime.
“It’s a hard question to answer,” Follmer said, noting no option is really healthy for officers until the department can staff back up and alleviate some of the pressure from those who remain on the force.
And to some degree, O’Malley said it could reduce stress overall, as current overtime demands detract from much-needed off-time to be with family, or to just unwind.
With more days off, “hopefully that give-and-take ends up being a net positive when it comes to physical and mental health of officers,” Abonamah said.
If staffing returns to higher levels someday, Follmer left open the possibility of returning to shorter shifts. But he said that outcome likely won’t happen in the next handful of years, given the long-ranging impacts of the pandemic, when the police academy was closed down, and changing cultural preferences that mean fewer folks are interested in becoming police officers.
The only other contract change approved this week involves discipline. If, during an investigation into one officer’s conduct, it’s revealed that another officer committed a low-level violation, that second officer will not be subject to punishment. They will instead receive a warning letter. This change applies only to the lowest level of offenses, such as failing to wear a uniform properly, and not more serious incidents, like assaults, O’Malley said.
To pay for the higher wages, Abonamah said the city will draw from money currently allocated for overtime, which Deputy Chief Daniel Fay on Wednesday said had reached $20 million this year. Bibb will also seek further reductions in the budgeted – not actual – size of the police force, so money isn’t tied up unnecessarily in unfilled positions, and can instead go into the pockets of existing officers, Abonamah said.
That change will likely come during budget hearings in the spring. Bibb did the same thing earlier this year to help pay for the raises that were approved last summer.
Though some have insinuated such reductions are “defunding the police,” Follmer called that notion “insulting.” Cleveland budgeted more money for police in 2023 than it had in previous years.
Follmer and O’Malley indicated these most recent negotiations with Bibb have seemed to mark a new era in relations between City Hall and the police unions, where both sides can have frank discussions. Abonamah said it feels as if they can now attempt to tackle shared problems in good faith, even if they don’t always agree.
Said O’Malley: “We’re dealing with a different City Hall than we were a few years ago. I’m not knocking anybody…it’s just a different perspective, and it’s refreshing.”