Text of the Release
Charter amendment proposal would eliminate 35 police officers, cost taxpayers $7.2 million
Shaker Heights officials released a statement today saying that they have “grave concerns” about a local group’s proposed amendments to the City’s Charter, which is the equivalent of the constitution of the City.
The group, Shaker Citizens for Fair Ticketing, is proposing Charter amendments that would, among a number of significant proposals, drastically cut the Shaker Heights Police Department budget, potentially eliminating half the force, and create an unelected oversight board with broad powers, taking both authority and accountability away from elected public officials. The proposals would cost taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million in the first year and $6.1 million per year thereafter.
The group is currently circulating a petition to put its proposed Charter amendments on the November 2023 ballot.
“I have grave concerns about the practicality, cost, legality, and most of all, the public safety implications of the proposed Charter amendments,” said Mayor David E. Weiss. These amendments call for replacing at least 35 of the City’s 68 police officers with “licensed mental health clinicians, social workers, and medics” who would assume numerous duties of the officers including, among others, all traffic stops for violations like speeding and running red lights, issuing all traffic tickets, patrolling neighborhoods, responding to non-violent crimes, in addition to all mental health-related calls.
In noting the potential duplication of the City’s existing Mental Health Response Program, Chief of Police Wayne Hudson said, “Shaker Heights is one of the few cities in our region that already employs a full-time social worker who is embedded with our police, fire and EMS first responders to address mental health-related calls. We have seen great success with this program and hope that it can serve as a model for other communities.”
Weiss added, “I respect this group’s right to advocate for their views. However, this proposal is an extreme measure that makes drastic changes to the City's Charter, will cause confusion in responding to calls, and will have an extremely negative impact on the operations of the City's safety services. While we are always open to ideas for improvements in the services the City provides, we will never entertain ideas that make the City and its residents less safe.”
The proponents say that one reason for the Charter amendments is to address a rise in violent crime in Shaker. However, “with respect to public safety, City statistics show that serious crimes have actually decreased steadily and significantly in Shaker Heights since the mid-1970s, with the last seven years seeing the lowest numbers of serious crimes since 1959,” Weiss said.
The proponents also claim that there is a problem with racial bias in Shaker policing. But as Weiss emphasized, “We always strive for unbiased policing and greater transparency. It’s a constant focus, with ongoing training, and the adoption of best practices, all under the leadership of our new Police Chief, Wayne Hudson, the first African American chief of police in Shaker’s history. Furthermore, we believe certain facts and statistics cited by the proponents for these dramatic changes are either incorrect, misleading or used out of context.”
Hudson also noted Shaker Heights police officers go through intensive training, including de-escalation training and training to recognize biases.
Greater transparency in policing is also a stated goal of the proponents. Chief Hudson said, “The Shaker Heights Police Department currently provides various policing information on its website and we will be expanding this information in the coming year with the implementation of updated software. However, the Charter amendments require the posting of extremely broad, detailed and extensive data. For instance, the Charter amendments would require the City to post 70 years of historical records digitally and maintain them in a searchable database.”
According to Hudson, Shaker has long been supportive of efforts to improve transparency. For instance, Shaker Heights police adopted in-car cameras in approximately 2007 and body-worn cameras in approximately 2010. “We were an early adopter of these technologies which were implemented to increase transparency by accurately and without bias depicting what occurs during traffic stops and certain interactions with the public,” Hudson said.
Weiss said. “I am very proud of the work our Police Department does every day to serve and protect our residents and keep Shaker Heights safe. I encourage everyone to read carefully the actual proposed Charter amendment language and other information related to the proposals which can be found on the City’s website.”