Cleveland City Council Renews Push For Police Mini-Stations

Four people are sitting at a long wooden table. The man on the left is wearing glasses and has his hands raised, and is speaking to two men and a woman in suits.
“I was devastated when they pulled the plug,” said Bob Guttu (left), a former Cleveland police officer, of the city’s decision to end the police mini-station program in 2004. [Adrian Ma / ideastream]
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Members of Cleveland City Council are renewing a push to bring police mini-stations back to the city. The idea is to have an officer assigned and stationed in each of the city's wards who would focus on community engagement and addressing quality-of-life complaints such as noise and illegal dumping. The proposal is similar to a program that existed over 15 years ago. 

At a meeting of the Police Mini-Station Sub-Committee at City Council Friday, former Cleveland police officer Bob Guttu shared his experience working in a mini-station. 

When Guttu was on the force, he said he had spent seven years working a zone car. Guttu told city councilmembers that riding around in a patrol car, responding to homicides and domestic violence calls, affected his view of the neighborhoods he patrolled.

"I was seeing people in a negative way," Guttu said. "I never got to see people in a positive light."

But then in the mid-80s the city started rolling out mini-stations. Guttu said that after he volunteered to work in one, he noticed an immediate change in his attitude. 

"Here's some business cards. Go out and make some friends," were his instructions, he said. 

The city ended the mini-station program in 2004 for budget reasons. But Guttu says it allowed a kind of community policing that Cleveland needs more of. 

"We got to finally gain the trust of the people in the neighborhood. If the mini-stations came back I think they would be a success," he said.

Deputy Chief of Police Wayne Drummond, who was at the meeting, said mini-stations would be redundant because each police district already has Community Engagement Officers and Community Service Officers who are focused on building relationships with residents and addressing quality-of-life complaints. 

Cleveland Director of Public Safety Michael McGrath told Council that the Mayor's office is "open to discussing the mini-station concept," given that the ranks of the Division of Police have bounced back from the severe cuts in the 2000s. But he added that he is wary that the idea could create a false distinction between police who are tasked with community engagement and those who are not. 

"Starting with the Chief all the way down to the patrol officers, everyone has to engage with the community," McGrath said.

However, each of the Councilmembers at Friday's meeting took turns expressing their frustration that, in their view, those efforts have not been enough.

"We need help, the crime is getting worse," said Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana."We need an officer that’s there, that’s going to connect with the Council and handle issues in the neighborhood." 

According to Santana, she and other members of the sub-committee have spoken to officials in other cities (including Bakersfield, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Aurora, Colorado) where the police departments use mini-stations. And as a result of those conversations, they have become increasingly convinced that Cleveland would benefit from reinstating its own mini-station program. 

Basheer Jones, Councilman for Ward 7, said that mini-station officers would not only play a role in reducing crimes but also in changing the perception of the police within the community. 

"I’m already seeing the change in the way people in my community are viewing police because of the Community Engagement Officers," said Jones. 

"A big reason people are leaving the city is the quality of life issues that a mini-station officer would fix very quickly," said Ward 11 Councilwoman Dona Brady. "I want somebody in my ward directly responsible to the community."

At the end of the meeting, the head of the Police Mini-Station Sub-Committee, Ward 16 Councilman Brian Kazy, recommended that the issue be taken up by the Council's Safety Committee.

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