CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – City officials continue to develop strategies to combat crime-related gunfire, which more than doubled in 2020.
Councilor Mike Ungar said the “recent surge is unacceptable and needs to stop” and invited all of his colleagues to attend last week’s online meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee, which he chairs.
Police chief Annette Mecklenburg noted that comparable cities have seen similar increases in gun-related crimes, which she said are “not isolated on Cleveland Heights – it happens in northeast Ohio” and elsewhere.
Even so, the local numbers still paint a strong picture. Mecklenburg has produced statistics for the past three years, starting in 2018 with 46 confirmed reports of “shootings or shots” out of a total of 113 gun-related calls.
The total number of calls is initially referred to as “shots fired,” although it may turn out to be fireworks or duplicate calls about the same incident heard by different people.
While the number of calls rose to 161 in 2019, only 30 of them were confirmed as “shooting-related”, either through gunfire or evidence left on the scene such as bullets, bullet holes or cartridge cases.
After that drop came 2020 – with a total of 330 calls with possible shots, 86 of which were confirmed. There were also six murders recorded last year.
High crime areas
Shootings were common in five areas, including:
– Noble Road north of Monticello
– coat of arms, maple and Wooden roads
– North Coventry (Eddington, Hillcrest, Belmar and Glenmont Streets)
– Parkway Superior Lincoln and Altamont, Berkeley and Desota Streets
– – Cedar-Lee neighborhood
With the exception of one case involving Reginald Thomas, 24, from Cleveland, a passenger shot Arrests were made in a moving car on South Taylor Road on September 20, or cases were resolved in five of six murders last year, at least one of which was suicide.
And while there is “no common thread or motive” in these and other cases, Mecklenburg said that in over 80 percent of recent Cleveland Heights shooting events, “the victim and the attacker know each other – these are generally not accidental crimes. ”
At the same time, the Cleveland Heights Police Department is dealing with 17 vacancies in the department, which has 109 posts allocated but only 92 officers currently on duty. Part of this reduction comes from a hiring freeze in the city triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Thirteen of these vacancies are for basic patrol officers, an unclassified position outside the civil service that is generally high-volume anyway because of the different wages and offers for public service positions in other cities. There are currently only 20 BPOs left with 33 slots assigned.
There are currently around nine applicants in the pipeline for these BPO positions, out of a preliminary list of up to 100 candidates. Many of the finalists could be on the job in the next few months.
But the rest of those applicants may need training elsewhere, as Mecklenburg and city manager Susanna Niermann O’Neil announced on Jan. 25 plans to temporarily close the city’s police academy to get more veterans onto the streets instead of teaching new recruits .
At the same time, “we still want detailed background checks and psychological tests,” Mecklenburg told the council. “We will not skimp on hiring good officers.”
Given the current climate and the public’s breach of trust in the police at the national level, the labor market for more good police officers remains very competitive. Mecklenburg and O’Neil are discussing the possibility of reducing the number of BPOs and creating more slots for regular officials.
For now, O’Neil said the city would continue to pay senior officials overtime to keep them on duty in certain areas “until we have some breathing space to fill those positions.” It is money well spent so that we are visible in the neighborhood and people feel safe and secure. “
With much of the hiring freeze now lifted, city officials are also looking into some technical innovations, including a possible acquisition License plate reader Cameras that would be installed at major intersections in the city.
You can read license plates and identify stolen cars – which are implicated in many other crimes, Mecklenburg noted. She added that the city could get the license plate readers for a 60-day trial of “cloud-based storage” of footage.
More surveillance cameras in the city are also being considered, as are improved body cameras for officials and improved lighting along roads like Oakdale Road off Cedar-Lee, where officials have noted down lightbulbs that the electricity company needs to replace.
City officials are also planning to install an anonymous warning line. Until then, Cuyahoga County will call Crime fighters Hotline is also recommended. Residents can also consider setting up their own “doorbell cameras” for surveillance.
Causes, factors considered
Mecklenburg believes there are a number of factors that are contributing to the increase in gun crimes.
“We don’t know the full impact of COVID, but we’ve seen some of the pandemic on the police,” she said. “It is evident that there has been an economic downturn and high unemployment, which has resulted in people resorting to other ways to make money.”
There was also a record number of unemployment fraud cases, much of which related to pandemic relief.
“At least one of our murders was associated with the motive of stealing thousands of dollars from a person,” Mecklenburg said of one case. “With such large amounts of money, that’s a factor.”
The health emergency has reduced police interactions with residents and business owners, with police reports being posted online. Officers previously went to church more often and talked to people.
It has also led to a reduction in prison populations, with misdemeanor orders keeping suspects on the streets and even reducing some criminal offenses – including gun offenses.
“Meet the Police” meetings are now hosted online, which O’Neil described as “awkward” in terms of community engagement. And the more than 125 block parties each year before the pandemic helped nurture relationships in the neighborhood.
Some victims are not cooperative with the police, a good indication that they may know who committed the crime or that it may be a gang.
In some incidents on the North Coventry-Eddington and Crest-Maple roads, “we had the same suspects who looked like gang activity,” Mecklenburg said. “And those problems seemed resolved when the Cleveland Heights residents moved out.”
A lack of cooperation can also lead to retaliation or repeated violence in the same place, Mecklenburg noted.
Mecklenburg also cited the increased number of guns on the streets, adding that “2020 was one of the highest years for gun buying, with some criminals using jobless fraud dollars to legally buy guns” or that someone else should buy them .
O’Neil and Mecklenburg plan to return to the council with some funding alternatives for the city, although there is already money in the budget to fill some vacancies in the police department.
“We have a lot of applicants, but we want to keep our standards where they are,” said O’Neil.
At least one resident asked for further patrols in the Oakdale area off Cedar-Lee, though city officials noted that installing cameras in residential neighborhoods – along with a proposal for the use of drones – could go a long way.
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