Cleveland officials question low minority staff levels at public safety departments

Council members raised concerns over hiring practices after noting the low proportion of minority first responders in the minority-majority city

Robert Higgs
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Several Cleveland City Council members recently voiced concerns that the city needs to do more to hire minority workers, particularly police officers, firefighters and EMTs.

Councilman Basheer Jones led the charge during budget hearings that ended Wednesday, repeatedly questioning why there were not more minority employees among the safety forces.

Cleveland officials have raised concerns about the low proportion of minority first responders at the fire, EMS and police departments in the city, where a majority of the general population are minorities.
Cleveland officials have raised concerns about the low proportion of minority first responders at the fire, EMS and police departments in the city, where a majority of the general population are minorities. (Photo/City of Cleveland Public Safety Recruitment Facebook)

And the issue is one that City Council President Kevin Kelley says needs to be addressed.

“It’s something that we’re always going to look at and something that we’re always going to look to improve.” Kelley said in an interview with

Jones was one of five new members elected to council in 2017. During hearings for each of three budgets, he has noted the scarcity of minority workers.

This year, it was clear that his concerns were shared by others in that group of five – Kevin Bishop, Anthony Hairston, Joe Jones, Jasmin Santana – as well as some veteran members, such as Kevin Conwell.

"We talk about Cleveland being a great city, but yet we let the [bad hiring] practices to continue just as always,” Bishop said during a hearing.

It’s not that Cleveland hasn’t recruited minority job candidates. As the city has looked to expand the police force and fill safety forces vacancies the last few years, it has advertised heavily in neighborhoods and held several job fairs.

But in a city where joblessness is a key issue and the minority population makes up a majority of the people, the numbers of minority workers remain too low, Jones argues. That’s a problem, Jones told, because it’s holding back a significant part of Cleveland’s population from prospering.

During budget hearings, the department leaders for EMS, fire and police produced demographic figures for their departments. They revealed that minority workers:

  • Account for 34% of the city’s EMS staff.
  • Account for 33% of the police force.
  • Account for 22% of fire department personnel.

Last fall, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the city of discriminating against blacks, Hispanics and women.

The EEOC questioned the testing process used to sort out applicants and threatened to sue if the city does not correct the violations.

Cleveland disputes the allegations and has pledged to work with the EEOC to resolve the issues.

And the city has promoted minorities and women. The police chief is African-American and the fire chief is Hispanic. The head of the EMS division is a woman.

“I want to get the numbers better just like everyone else,” Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo said during a budget hearing. “It’s something I’m very sensitive to, growing up Hispanic in Cleveland.”

There are other departments in city government with stronger minority hiring numbers. In public utilities, for example, the Cleveland water department, the city’s water pollution control office and Cleveland Public Power all have staffs that have more than 60% minority workers.

To successfully apply, a candidate must pass a civil service entrance exam and physical fitness requirements. Applicants also must be high school graduates and undergo background checks.

Candidates for the police department must be at least 21 years old. EMS candidates were once required to have a current EMT training certificate from the state. But during hearings, the department noted that it now has the ability to train and certify new EMTs.

The Jackson administration has a staff of recruitment officers specifically charged with trying to find candidates for open positions.

The administration did not have an immediate response when asked to comment about Jones’ remarks during budget hearings. Jones has no doubts that their efforts are sincere.

“I’m sure the mayor is not happy with this. All he talks about is equity. … But it’s not filtering into the departments,” Jones told

“I think there’s a flaw in the system, he said. “You can’t say that you don’t want to have communities that are impoverished if you’re not addressing the systems that are keeping people impoverished.”


©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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