Sex crimes staffing promises are an inspiring work of fiction: Andrea Simakis

February 10, 2019 GMT

Sex crimes staffing promises are an inspiring work of fiction: Andrea Simakis

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- On Wednesday, Chief of Police Calvin Williams is expected to deliver his annual staffing report to the City Council’s Safety Committee, a sort of troop deployment plan for the war on crime in Cleveland.

Its 33-pages detail everything from the number of cops he wants to see patrolling the city’s five police districts to those working to solve murders and other crimes in elite investigative units.

The report calls for 23 detectives to staff the Sex Crimes & Child Abuse Unit in 2020. That would be great. But if history is any guide, that’s not going to happen -- not unless city and police brass make investigating rapes and serious cases of child abuse a priority.

Until then, Williams’ report belongs on the shelf next to similar works of fiction.

Twenty-three detectives were budgeted for the unit in 2018. But there were nowhere near that many cops in the unit last year. There were 16.

Today there are 14 detectives in a squad expected to handle well over 1,000 total reports annually -- that’s rape cases as well as sex crimes against children and other child abuse. And don’t forget the older, unsolved cases still piled on their desks.

With so few investigators handling that kind of volume we shouldn’t be surprised when women and kids fall through the cracks.

That happened last year when we learned that a former sex crimes detective had quietly shelved dozens of rape cases. The suspect in at least one of those cases went on to commit another rape.

An internal affairs audit described a unit that was understaffed and overwhelmed. In a memo unearthed after news of the scandal broke, a beleaguered sergeant wrote that cases were “piling up at an alarming rate.”

A departmental staffing report concluded that the Sex Crimes & Child Abuse Unit needed 30 detectives to conduct “thorough” investigations. So why is Williams now content to staff the with 23? That’s a question for Matt Zone, chair of the Safety Committee to ask. Still, women and children in Cleveland will be lucky if the unit ever boasts that many detectives.

The Sex Crimes & Child Abuse Unit has been fighting for resources since its scrappy birth, advocates insisting for change told to be patient. More detectives were on the way, they were promised. Don’t be greedy. Other units needed bodies, too.

The city’s first “Rape and Child Abuse Investigative Unit” was established by an emergency ordinance in March of 1985. There was a car theft unit, the city council people who championed it argued, so wasn’t it high time to start a unit devoted to solving crimes against women and children? The unit was launched with a staff of 17.

By 1988 that number had been slashed to just eight, with one of its members reassigned to serve as a chauffeur to then city council president George Forbes.

The department “realized that the sex crimes unit had a personnel shortage” a police spokesman said, adding “everyone is short. The numbers have dropped in the fraud and homicide units too.”

“We’re not saying we don’t care about sex crimes,” he told The Plain Dealer. “We do, and we do plan to add to the unit after the next academy class graduates in February.”

In 2002, following a Plain Dealer expose of a unit plagued by “unsolved cases” and “staggering work-loads,” then Mayor Jane Campbell vowed to increase the number of detectives from 12 to 17 -- and hinted at possibly adding even more.

And yet, here we are in 2019, with 14 detectives staffing the unit -- nowhere near the budgeted 23 let alone 30, a roster that would allow for in-depth investigations.

“I share your frustration,” Zone says. “We can do better.”

Zone is optimistic that once the last of the new recruits graduates from the academy in mid-July and the department is “fully staffed,” the Chief can start filling the holes in the special units.

Where have I heard that before?

Still, I’m taking Zone at his word that he’ll rewrite this story, turn fiction to nonfiction and insist Chief Williams give the Sex Crimes & Child Abuse Unit the 23 detectives he promised.

We’ve been patient long enough.