CLEVELAND—Nearly all members of Cleveland police’s bomb squad are leaving the unit because of concerns about safety and supervision, according to the city’s police union.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer said at least six of the eight-member team have requested to leave the unit over the past few days. He said police officials have no power to force them to remain in the unit.
Follmer said bomb squad officers are concerned with the sergeant in charge of the unit after several recent incidents and tactics he deployed during calls.
During a Jan. 5 training exercise in the parking lot of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the supervisor brought what officers believed was a potentially live pipe bomb for the demonstration. Training exercises, particularly in public places, typically do not involve live or potentially-live explosives, Follmer said.
The union in recent weeks asked for an investigation into the incident and for the sergeant to be temporarily removed from the unit until the investigation is completed. Police officials launched an investigation but did not take the sergeant out of the bomb squad, prompting the officers to ask to be removed from the unit.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 8 President Capt. Brian Betley, who represents Cleveland police supervisors, did not return a message seeking comment.
Cleveland police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia refused to provide information about how many officers have asked to leave the unit or their status. The department on Monday sent out a department-wide memo asking for officers to apply to fill open spots in the squad.
“The Cleveland Division of Police is conducting an internal review of an incident involving the Cleveland Police Bomb Squad,” Ciaccia said. “Information regarding staffing levels within the squad is considered tactical information and is not releasable at this time.”
Follmer said the union is advising officers not to apply for the open bomb unit positions.
“The union has concerns about safety issues and contractual issues and until these are ironed out, we’re not encouraging members to [apply] for the bomb squad unit,” Follmer said.
The bomb squad is comprised of specially trained officers. The officers are assigned elsewhere in the department with other day-to-day duties, but are on-call to respond to calls for potential explosives and to clean up methamphetamine labs and marijuana-growing operations that have the potential to become volatile.
The unit also works special city events, including most recently during the NBA All-Star weekend and for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
City officials have not yet said if they have a plan in place if a need for the squad arises. The city has a mutual-aid agreement for bomb squad services with the Southwest Enforcement Bureau, a task force comprised of officers from 18 suburban communities.
FBI spokesman Special Agent Patrick Lentz said in a statement they would respond to calls if requested by Cleveland police.
“The Cleveland Division of Police regularly receives support from numerous partnering law enforcement agencies in assisting with bomb threat mitigation efforts,” Ciaccia said in a statement.
The officers delayed asking to leave the unit until after the NBA All-Star Game weekend, Follmer said.
Follmer said the unit had run smoothly until police officials removed Lt. Timothy Maffo-Judd from the unit in March 2020 after he conducted an investigation into a bar owner who he believed had offered him a bribe.
Maffo-Judd has since filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that he was retaliated against because of his investigation, which ultimately ended with Duck Island owner Andrew Long convicted of bribery.
Follmer also said officers who are leaving the unit have more than 10 years of experience with the bomb squad. Some have more than 20, Follmer said.
“They want to keep doing this job, but if no measures are taken to temporarily resolve this, the officers are not going to voluntarily put themselves in that situation,” Follmer said.
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