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Cleveland council OKs $2.2M in hiring bonuses, mental health services for first responders

With American Rescue Plan Act money, the city plans to offer $3,000 signing bonuses to 550 new hires


Cleveland plans to provide bonuses for 550 first responders, at a cost of $1.7 million. Additional ARPA funds will pay for travel for career development, a marketing firm to assemble a marketing strategy, and for advertising.

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By Lucas Daprile

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland City Council has approved $2.2 million in spending on two projects to provide benefits to dispatchers and first responders.

The money, which is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, includes $1.9 million to provide $3,000 signing bonuses for new police officers, firefighters, EMS employees and 911 dispatchers, according to city documents. The goal is to provide bonuses for 550 first responders, at a cost of $1.7 million, with the rest of the money to pay for travel for career development, a marketing firm to assemble a marketing strategy, and for advertising.

Half of the hiring bonuses will be paid after the fourth week of training, which is when many of those who drop out of training do so, according to city documents. The second half of the signing bonus will be paid three months after the employee is hired and remains on staff.

Also approved was a proposal to spend $310,000 on a mental health wellness program for EMS, fire, police and 911 dispatch employees. The wellness program seeks to consolidate fragmented efforts among departments and provide employees with access to therapy, substance abuse counseling, anger/grief management, meditation and yoga, according to city documents. The money includes salary and benefits for two therapists for two years.

The first responder and dispatcher benefits are separate from another recently discussed proposal to use state ARPA money to provide Cleveland police officers with $3,000 retention bonuses.

Also approved Monday night were multiple ARPA-related expenses including retention bonuses for police, grant funding for its crime center and a violence prevention program.

City council was set to consider a $7.5 million ARPA expense to nonprofit Cleveland Development Advisors, Inc. to finance community development projects in low-income neighborhoods, but it will now be held until another meeting. The community development projects would include affordable housing, restoring vacant/abandoned properties, remediating contaminated properties and fixing up commercial properties, according to city documents.

The expenses are the latest, but likely not the last, ARPA expeditures for law enforcement. Two members of the public safety committee, including Chairman Mike Polensek, called for using additional ARPA funds to increase prosecution of homicides.

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Another was Councilman Joseph Jones, who has been a vocal advocate for aggressively recruiting more police officers.

“We now need to start turning toward ARPA funds… so we can solve those homicide rates,” Jones said. “We need to send a strong message to crime in this city that if you come over here in the city of Cleveland you’re going to be held accountable. We’re not playing around.”

Solving homicides is worthy in its own right, Jones said, but creating a safer city will also encourage people to come back to Cleveland.

“When you start doing that, you’ll start bringing more people back into the city of Cleveland, more businesses into the city of Cleveland,” Jones said. “Right now they’re leaving the city of Cleveland because they don’t feel safe.”

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