An ongoing investigation by News 5 into the dire staffing shortage facing Cleveland police has revealed an alarming rate of resignations and retirements, with 128 officers leaving the force between January 1 and September 27, 2023.
This trend, which began in 2020, has now seen a total of 648 officers depart the Cleveland Division of Police since the beginning of 2020, leaving the department significantly understaffed.
As of September, there were only 1,216 officers on the force, a shortfall of 424 officers compared to the budgeted strength of 1,640.
Of the 128 officers who left the department between January 1–September 1, 56% of those resigned and 40% retired. Three officers were terminated, according to department statistics.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb acknowledged the severity of the situation, calling it a “serious problem,” while Dr. Matt Nordlund, an expert in industrial-organizational psychology at Cleveland State University, attributed increased attrition to high burnout rates among officers and a potential vicious cycle leading to more resignations and retirements.
“We know that police officers already have very high rates of burnout, and I imagine this could contribute to even higher rates in the future,” he said. “So you could have this vicious cycle, where you have a limited number of people trying to do more and more things, leading to more and more burnout and more and more resignations and retirements,” Nordlund said.
One officer suffering from exhaustion and burnout was Officer Dominic Naples, a patrolman who was sworn into the Cleveland Police Department in September 2019.
Following a car crash in which he was knocked unconscious, Naples decided he had enough.
“I woke up in the hospital. Didn’t know who I was. Don’t remember any of the calls that happened that day. It made me kind of start to rethink everything,” Naples said.
“It can burn you out really, really fast, and I feel like that’s what happened to me.”
The departure of officers was not limited to just Cleveland, as some former officers found employment in smaller, wealthier suburbs in northeast Ohio, including Berea, Independence, Sheffield Lake and Solon. These departures were often driven by higher salaries and better resources in those suburbs, as well as a more supportive work environment.
“You just feel an overwhelming amount of support here,” Officer Aaron Bledsoe, who took a job with the Solon Police Department, explained. “We have well-maintained and updated equipment, facilities — and that makes your job a lot easier.”
In response to the staffing crisis, Cleveland officials have taken a series of historic measures aimed at addressing the issue, with the major change being pay increases.
Indeed, Mayor Bibb recently announced significant pay increases of up to 14% for officers across the division, elevating Cleveland police officers’ pay rates to among the highest in the state. This marks a total increase of 25% over the last two years.
The pay increase was approved by union members following negotiations.
“Time and again, I’ve said that my administration is committed to doing everything we possibly can to improve public safety by investing in those who protect us — our police officers. This is the latest example of that commitment,” Bibb said of the move. “I’d like to thank the CPPA and FOP leadership for their genuine collaboration throughout this process and look forward to continuing this great partnership we have established.”
Bibb said the city also plans to implement 12-hour shift hours instead of 10-hour shifts, which aims to provide a better work–life balance for officers and more time on days off.
The move comes after considering studies that have shown the benefits of 12-hour shifts in other professions, including the nursing sector. This change is expected to reduce the mandates for overtime and allow officers more time off, increasing their overall wellness.
Bibb told reporters that these measures would be re-evaluated within a year, and if any issues arise, the city will be willing to make further changes.
Deputy Chief of Administrative Operations Daniel Fay explained that the new shift model would help reduce mandatory overtime by spreading the staffing more evenly across shifts, which, in turn, could lead to an increase in the number of officers.
“It will spread the staffing out,” Fay continued. “It will give us more staffing with each squad and with each shift. Do we have more officers right now? No. Do we anticipate more officers coming? Definitely. I anticipate through the recruitment efforts and this particular agreement, our academy classes will increase.”
Recruitment efforts have further been bolstered with an increase in cadet pay and other financial incentives, along with a rebranding initiative for the police department.
Nordlund, the psychology expert, suggested that Cleveland should continue to make the police force more attractive by examining grooming rules and requirements, as well as improving work-life balance for officers.
In light of the recent developments, the city is seeing a surge in police applications, with a 45% increase since the Public Safety Summit held in August. The city budgeted for 1,498 police officers but currently employs only 1,211.
The new changes will take effect on January 1.