City Adds More Police Officers And Ambassadors
The safety of Lakewood continues to be among my highest priorities as mayor, and I am constantly working with our chiefs and directors to explore innovative ways to keep our city safe. That’s why I have presented Lakewood City Council with a set of recommendations to use federal dollars that our city received from the American Rescue Plan to fund two public safety initiatives.
Regarding our police force, after numerous discussions with Chief Kaucheck, we are recommending that Lakewood increase our authorized number of officers by four, bringing our maximum capacity to 99. This increase is necessary to keep our staffing at key thresholds and not face a reduction in service as we deal with succession planning for known and expected attrition from retirements as well as industry-wide challenges with recruiting high caliber talent to the field of police work. (Nationally, recruiting and hiring pools have sharply decreased and significant numbers of officers have left the field entirely). There is also a lengthy onboarding process required to bring in new officers – recruits or signees from other departments – and have them able to patrol solo (i.e., without a training partner).
By increasing our authorized number of police officers, Lakewood will take a strategic step that provides the financial ability and nimbleness to be proactive in recruiting, attracting, and keeping the City at its current number of uniformed officers. We also expect this to meaningfully reduce the need to use overtime in the police department, thus saving those dollars for other uses while helping with morale and retention for our current officers, who must work a significant number of overtime hours when our roster decreases.
In addition to increasing our maximum allowed capacity for officers, I am recommending that the City also enter into a contract with a vendor to staff our parks with ambassadors. I have heard from many of you that safety services beyond traditional uniformed officers' presence is a priority, and I share this view. I have a holistic view of safety that includes the importance of police, but an understanding that our approach cannot only be about officers. I have regularly met with leadership at City Hall to explore and evaluate innovative models that might achieve this goal. We think that the ambassador program could be a great nontraditional model that adds to Lakewood’s safety.
Ambassador programs with elements of safety work have been implemented across the U.S. by cities, neighborhoods, and community groups, including at least a half dozen locally in Cuyahoga County. The model will use trained personnel to provide a stable, friendly, non-hostile role in our parks, interacting in a positive way with the public while also helping to identify and report potential safety issues before they arise or escalate. Ambassadors wear easily identifiable uniforms (ours will likely be purple and gold!) so they are a visible presence. They will work during warm weather months, primarily at Madison and Lakewood Parks, with additional presence rotating at our smaller parks. This will be a pilot program, and we will evaluate its effectiveness at year’s end to determine any potential future engagement.
Lakewood is a safe community – you may have seen the news last month about positive trends in our city’s crime data in the recently released Lakewood Police Department annual report. I am committed to keeping Lakewood safe – so while I am happy about those positive trends, we can never rest on our laurels. These proactive and strategic investments should help with our important safety goals.