Defund the police or Expand the police? The Cleveland Police Department at a crossroads

By Nicholas Hunter

The past year and a half has put police across the country under a bright spotlight, with calls for police reform and even to defund police departments in the face of broad public criticism. Cleveland, of course, is no different.

Local leaders, including the Cleveland Black Lives Matter group, have been calling for defunding the police since last year, when the death of George Floyd led to protests breaking out across the country.

The calls for defunding have come in the wake not only of the Floyd murder, but in response to black Clevelanders, including Tamir Rice, who lost their lives in police confrontations.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has called for police reform, but said defunding is not on the table.

“We’re not going to defund the police,” Jackson said. “Because when you get robbed, you’re going to want the police. If you get assaulted, you’re going to want the police. If your house is broken into, you’re going to want the police.”

On Friday, July 30, the Cleveland Police Department inducted its most recent class of recruits into the force. While it adds 34 new officers to the CPD, it is unlikely to quell concerns of understaffed precincts.

As of late July, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said the department is facing a 120-person shortage, due to issues with recruitment and a spike in retirements.

With calls from local groups to defund the police while the mayor and Police Chief push back, even looking to expand the force, it begs the question: How does the Cleveland Police Department stack up?

Another midwestern city that’s facing a similar push and pull around law enforcement is St. Louis, Missouri.

To be clear, St. Louis was not chosen randomly for this comparison: Both Cities have similar population sizes and demographic breakdowns, and have similar police forces, with over 1,300 officers among St. Louis’ force and 1,600 officers in Cleveland.

Both cities have also put the state of their police force in the spotlight this year.

A Quinnipiac poll from June 2020 asked Clevelanders for their opinions on a variety of hot political topics leading up to the Presidential election. The poll asked questions about the COVID response in Ohio, Confederate symbols, Biden vs Trump, and views on police.

This poll found that over 80 percent of likely voters in Cleveland are against disbanding the police force, and 57 percent are against any effort to cut police funds.

While Cleveland seems to not carry much support for defunding police, St. Louis went full force in the opposite direction.

Newly elected mayor Tishaura Jones cut the St. Louis Police Department’s $171 million budget by $4 million, redirecting those funds to hire more social workers to respond to calls that involve mental illness and addiction.

While the move has faced significant public backlash across the state, it is still unclear what the effects are. The policy only went into place July 1st, so the one-month window is unlikely to reveal any significant change in crime.

Back in Cleveland, where the police budget is $218 million, public safety is expected to be a big ticket issue in this years’ mayoral race.