CLEVELAND — Recent shootings in Cleveland have brought city leaders to a tipping point.
At Wednesday night’s city council meeting, several council members expressed frustration with a lack of communication from the Bibb administration about a plan to address the violence.
“Our streets are becoming unlivable,” Council Member Mike Polensek, who represents Ward 8, said. “Some neighborhoods are far worse than others. Some neighborhoods are off the hook, off the hook. We've got to figure out what is the game plan. I cannot tell you what the game plan is. “
According to data from the Cleveland Police Department, there’s been about 85 homicides by firearm so far this year, compared to 65 at this point in 2022.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said he believes this increase can be partly attributed to the passing of Senate Bill 215 last year, which allows people to carry concealed firearms without training or a permit in the state of Ohio.
“I'm a big believer in the Second Amendment,” Bibb said. “But I also believe what 80% of folks across the state believe in: common sense gun reform. We have more tools to get more guns off the street. I believe you'd see a decrease in gun violence in our city.”
Beyond calling on state legislators to take action, Bibb said he’s doing all he can at the city level to address the violence.
He’s expanding the use of ShotSpotter, a gunfire locator service, as well as SAFE SMART CLE, the camera-sharing program for businesses and residents across the city.
Bibb will also be collaborating with Fraternal Order of Police Captain Jim O’Malley and Cleveland Police Patrolman Association President Detective Jeff Follmer for a Public Safety Summit to identify ways to recruit and retain officers in the city.
The began their private meetings Wednesday in preparation for the summit on Aug. 23.
“Given the challenges that we're seeing with police recruitment, given the challenges that we're seeing with gun violence in our city, we must use every tool we can to address the issue,” Bibb said.
He’s also working to fund more programs for youth, add more crime analysts to each district and recruit and retain officers by offering hiring bonuses and increasing pay.
However, the department currently still has roughly 230 positions open.
Polensek said he and all the other council members have been flooded with phone calls about gun violence in the city, but they have been left out of the conversation about a plan to address it.
“I was called by two elderly Black ladies in my ward to inform me that there had been a shooting,” Polensek said. “I was in my yard working my garden. That's my hobby. It was in my garden, a beautiful afternoon, to tell me that there had been a violent shooting gun battle in the neighborhood. I arrived on the scene and I just could not believe what I saw: the carnage, the streets that were shut down, the number of shell casings.”
Polensek was one of six council members to speak at council about disappointment in the administration, after no one in the cabinet attended the council meeting Wednesday night.
Council President Blaine Griffin came down from the podium to share his concerns.
“Council has done everything we could to give the resources, give the support and everything else that the administration has asked for,” Griffin said. “But at the end of the day, at the end of the day, right now, it’s not enough. I’m going to continue to work with anyone that wants to address the violence in this city, but ladies and gentlemen, we are all we got.”
The Bibb administration responded to the comments with the following statement:
“The administration has been working tirelessly, every single day to push Cleveland forward. The city’s problems and violence do not get a summer recess like Council. The Administration works around the clock, showing up every day and doing everything we can to keep our residents safe and ensure they receive the services they need.
We were informed of the political grandstanding that was going to occur tonight. The Mayor will not subject his cabinet to sit politely for yet another monologue attacking their integrity, ethics, and basic functionality. Real progress takes place with hard work and action, not expressing frustration in front of an audience.
Continued attacks like these rip at the fabrics of collaboration, are unproductive, and hinder progress, hurting those who need help the most – our residents. We look forward to genuine collaboration with council in the near future, so we can work together to find solutions for our residents. They deserve nothing less.“
The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16.