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Cleveland officials seek consultants to determine size of police force

The proposal request states the city wants to know how big the division of police needs to be to “effectively and efficiently serve” Cleveland

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City officials are searching for consultants to analyze how many Cleveland police officers the city needs.

Photo/Facebook via Cleveland Police Department

By Courtney Astolfi

CLEVELAND — Mayor Justin Bibb is seeking proposals from consulting firms to analyze how many Cleveland police officers the city needs, and to recommend ways to modernize the fire department and EMS.

Proposals are due Nov. 9.

What the city hopes to achieve with this effort is fuzzy, particularly when it comes to the “modernization” of fire and EMS. The request for proposals does not outline what “modernization” might mean, or indicate how the consultant’s recommendations, if followed, could change how the city delivers public safety services. on Wednesday asked to speak with Public Safety Director Karrie Howard or any other city official to get a better understanding of what Cleveland is trying to achieve with such a consultant. As of early Monday, spokespeople for Bibb have yet to respond to inquiries seeking more information.

The request for an analysis of the size of police force is more straightforward than the fire and EMS request. The request for proposals states that the city wants to know how big the division of police needs to be to “effectively and efficiently serve” Cleveland, though it does not further detail how the consultant would determine appropriate staffing levels.

Cleveland police continues to face a significant staffing shortage. As of last week, there were 1,335 Cleveland police officers – more than 300 fewer than the city’s preferred, budgeted staffing level of 1,640.

A September report from the court-appointed team monitoring the U.S. Justice Department’s agreement with the city, known as the consent decree, identified the police department’s current staffing plan as an issue of concern, given how low the number of Cleveland police officers has dropped in recent months and years.

To help the city deal with the understaffing, the monitoring team recommended Cleveland police re-evaluate its staffing and deployment plan, which dates to 2017, when there were hundreds more officers on the force.

“With less officers, it likely requires both changes to long-held practices as well as creative strategies to work within the reality of lower than desired numbers,” the report said. “The department could reimagine its deployment plans…to increase focus on community priorities and phase out services that do not impact community satisfaction or public safety goals.”

The chair of City Council’s Safety Committee, Michael Polensek, told he was unable to offer any insight on the purpose of the request for proposals – or how the recommendations might impact safety services overall – because the Bibb administration had not yet briefed him on their intentions.

“I’m going to be interested, very much, as to what the focus of this is all about — and obviously the cost as well,” Polensek said. He also shared some skepticism about using an outside consultant to make such determinations.

“In all three divisions, I would have thought you would utilize your command staff to make decisions. That’s why you have a command staff,” he added.

The heads of the two unions representing firefighters and EMS workers were also in the dark about what kinds of recommendations the city is seeking. Mark Barrett, president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, and Francis Lally, president of the Association of Cleveland Firefighters IAFF Local 93, said no one had briefed their organizations.

But Lally said he was in favor of finding new ideas that could improve fire operations: “We welcome any and all studies the city wants to conduct to help us do our jobs, modernize, and deliver better services.”

Barrett also welcomed a new look at how EMS could be re-tooled to better serve residents. He said the current model – in which ambulances often serve as a hospital-transport service – could be improved by tapping other ways to connect residents with healthcare

“There are different things you can do to be ‘modern’ – things like community paramedicine, mental health teams, trial programs for new medicine,” Barrett said. “The opportunities are endless for the city to do something to curtail some of these calls that eat up resources. Community paramedics can be sent out to check on people. If they just need a teleconference with a doctor, they can do that…or if they just need to talk to somebody to get their blood sugar or blood pressure checked.”

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