It is a wintry Sunday evening and thousands of Cleveland families are turning inward and nodding off toward a week of work. A local police officer, meanwhile, is pulling onto a side street just outside Cuyahoga Community College's Metro campus and beginning his shift.
The gig is an eight-hour stint posted up outside Mayor Frank Jackson's East 38th Street home.
Not much going on tonight, though. Not much going on most nights. But there's cop presence there, whether Jackson is home or not.
It's a practice that has been in effect in Cleveland for decades, stretching back in time through the administrations of this city. The police department could not provide an exact date for the genesis of this dedicated mayoral security beat, though it predates Mayor Ralph Perk's administration (1972-1977). Other records show that Mayor Carl Stokes (1968-1971) was ushered around in the throes of mayoral security.
Sitting mayors in Cleveland enjoy a host of privileges, including being the target of all sorts of simultaneous mockery and praise. Beyond the basics, though, mayors receive a special sort of attention from the police department: a finely tuned, wholly distinct police patrol.
Six dedicated officers work the beat, with two on duty per shift. The starting times are staggered, with two hours between individual officers' shifts beginning. Occasionally, fellow on-duty street officers will roll by to provide additional eyes.
Typically, one officer will lay low directly in front of Jackson's home while another will cruise the neighborhood.
Detective Jennifer Ciaccia notes that there's no special continual training needed for the mayoral detail. But nonetheless, there's a hearty chunk of the department's budget being funneled directly to the doorstep of Jackson and his family.
According to current union contracts, street officers are paid somewhere between $22 and $27 per hour, bringing an average officer's salary close to $50,000 to $55,000 per year. The Cleveland Police Department would not elaborate on what "level" the specific mayoral security officers are.
"He does have Cleveland police with him at all times," Maureen Harper, the mayor's director of communications, says of life in Jackson's world. "They provide for his security."
Flanked by officers at press conferences, followed by officers watching his every step.
And the 24/7/365 presence in front of his abode seems to be a tacit admission that Cleveland is too dangerous to not have police guarding your door.
There's certainly no talk of discontinuing this service. It's essentially been built into the machinery of the city for nearly half a century. Cleveland is a town of legacies. "We believe it continues to provide a valuable and appropriate level of safety and security to the mayor, his family and the community," as Jackson's office detachedly notes via email to Scene.
Through the years, though, the record certainly is not unblemished.
In December 2001, Patrolman Edward Lentz Jr. was stationed outside former Mayor Jane Campbell's Shaker Square home. She had just won election the month prior. Lentz was on the mayoral guard beat when a 12-year-old boy drove down the street in a stolen vehicle and hit him. Lentz shot at the boy, Lorenzo Locklear, 14 times.
His discrimination case with the city (Lentz is white, Locklear black) went on for nearly a decade, capturing local headlines with nary a mention of the fact that his work was part of a dedicated mayoral protection gig. After being placed on gym duty, Lentz received $800,000 for racial discrimination via the pronouncement of an all-white jury. Following an ongoing round of appeals, a federal judge lowered the original payout awarded to him to $293,000.
But that incident occurred out of pure circumstance, not because Locklear was targeting Campbell's house in any fashion. Aside from that noteworthy tangent, the police department would not provide details concerning additional criminal incidents near the mayor's home during Jackson's administration (2006 to present).
But the mayoral detail as an idea isn't unfamiliar territory for other major municipalities (and small ones, too) across the country.
In Pittsburgh, for instance, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has two bodyguards committed to maintaining his security whenever he is in public. After his initial election, the unsuspecting incoming mayor told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2007: "I've been instructed through the police department that I am to have an officer with me anytime I'm in public." His two detectives each routinely pick up a greater salary than Ravenstahl himself, interestingly enough.
Though in Cincinnati, Sgt. Julian Johnson confirmed that police in that city do not station officers outside Mayor Mark Mallory's home. Johnson, for what it's worth, was abundantly more forthcoming with police information than Cleveland's own department.
The Lakewood Police Department, for its part, does not grant 24-hour security detail to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's residence. With a hearty chuckle, in fact, the dispatcher on duty at the time dismissed that notion: "No, not at all."