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Griffin Promises More Aggressive Oversight Of Public Safety In 2021

Cleveland City Council’s new public safety committee chairman is promising a more aggressive approach than his predecessor.

Councilman Blaine Griffin led his first committee meeting Wednesday, replacing Matt Zone, who left council earlier this year to run the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities program.

Griffin spent Wednesday’s meeting gathering topics for investigation from council members and promising to press Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration to respect council’s oversight role.

“Because one thing I will not do as a chair is allow the administration to come to the table and not have answers for what you want,” Griffin said.

In the recent past, individual council members have refused to approve any police-related legislation because the mayor’s office has not fulfilled requests for information on topics like diversity in hiring.

The safety committee oversees the public safety department budget and can set department policy on issues like drug decriminalization, but the committee doesn’t have the authority to fire the police chief or public safety director.

Griffin takes over the safety committee as Cleveland grapples with dramatic increases in homicides and shootings. Council members on Wednesday all described violence that’s occurred in their wards and came to the meeting with issues they want to address in 2021.

“I don’t have confidence in this command staff,” said Mike Polensek, the longest serving councilman on the committee. “And I’m not the only one.”

Polensek repeated a frequently raised criticism that the department is unable to hire officers fast enough to keep up with attrition.

According to Cleveland Division of Police Chief Calvin Williams, the department is currently operating with 70 patrol officers fewer than what the budget provides for – 1,640.

“We discuss staffing every year since I’ve been on council,” said Councilman Brian Kazy. “It’s like we’re hamsters on a wheel.”

Other council members raised concerns about speeding on residential streets and the rules private police forces, like those used by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, have to follow to operate within the City of Cleveland.

In addition to those issues, Griffin said the committee also will hold hearings on the city’s federal consent decree, which is likely to be completed by 2022.

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