Citing ‘culture of complacency,’ Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb highlights safety initiative

Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 11:50 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb doubled down on his public safety initiative on Monday, vowing to make sure police officers are visible, while focusing on youth programs and mental health.

“For far too long, we’ve seen a culture of complacency when it comes to violence in Cleveland. I’m taking long overdue action to change that,” Bibb said in an email to subscribers of his campaign newsletter.

Certain aspects of the plan have been widely discussed by Bibb dating back to before he took office, but the new comments come just two days after he and other U.S. mayors met with ATF Director Steven Dettelbach at a national event organized by the United States Conference of Mayors.

Bibb also pointed to recent feedback from residents.

“Last week, I asked you to share what you think are the biggest challenges facing our city. Your biggest concern – and one that I share – was public safety and violence prevention,” Bibb wrote.

He outlined increased foot patrols by police, essentially having officers walk their beat to get to know members of the community, which Bibb said will help crack down on gun violence.

“It’s a good idea in theory but right now we don’t have the numbers. We need those guys for patrol,” said Jeff Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association. “And as a union, we’ll need to see where they’re putting those guys to make sure it’s safe.”

Follmer said having officers walk a beat could slow down their response time to emergencies, especially if they’re aware from the patrol cars. He also said officers are a little “leery” right now because Mayor Bibb recently asked the FBI to look into possible violations by members of the department’s gang unit, which the union leader insists was already addressing some of the same issues Bibb described in his safety initiative.

Follmer also acknowledged that community policing can be effective, but requires proper staffing levels.

The city has been operating below its budgeted police staffing level for years.

“Deploying more police officers to walk our streets of Cleveland to build trust in the community and improve response times and crack down on illegal guns,” said Bibb. “But we can’t just police our way to public safety. We have to prioritize violence prevention with youth programs, mental health services, and targeted interventions.”

The second part of Bibb’s initiative includes creating more services for area youth with a focus on mental health. He pointed to investments in education and after-school programs, with specialized staff training.

The third part of the initiative focuses on mental health diversion, in other words, getting people who may be in crisis the help they need.