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Partnering in University Circle: Ohio's oldest community police department celebrates 60 years

Posted November 04, 2019 in Articles

Author: Terry Troy

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the University Circle Police Department (UCPD) has grown to become a model of how a police department should interact with other police and security departments, as well as the community it serves. Born of adversity in 1959, the UCPD was once called "the glue that holds Unviersity Circle together," by Joseph Pigott, former president of University Circle.

"I very much believe that," says Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc. "We are a community police department that acts as a go-between between the municipal enforcement of the Cleveland Police Department and the campus security and police departments of our universities and hospitals.

"We are that layer that protects 3 million visitors, 50,000 workers and 10,000 residents, but often our services go well beyond what most people expect of a municipal police department. Yet, we have all the authority that any peace officer would have, and we go through all the training and ceritfication programs."

If it weren't for the UCPD, Cleveland might not have an arts-and-cultural destination like University Circle.

"In 1959, there was a very serious crime -- a murder -- at the lagoon in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art," says Ronayne "That left many of our institutions wondering whether they were going to stay or go. But what emerged was our state's first community police department, and the institutions that were considering fleeing the city, did not."

Today, the UCPD has grown to be a 24/7 operation, protecting an area that extends from East 123rd Street west to East 101st Street, north to Wade Park and south to Cedar Hill Road.

"We protect 40 member institutions that make contributions to help support our services," says Jim Repicky, chief of the UCPD. "We have 25 officers, and we coordinate witha ll the local agencies and departments."

In addition to the Cleveland Police Department, those departments include: Case Western Reserve University Police Department, University Hospitals Police Dept., and other Univeristy Circle institutional security forces.

"We also work with RTA and CMHA police," adds Repicky.

In addition to its 25 officers, which include plainclothes detectives, the UCPD is supported by a staff of four full-time employees and one part time civillian employee. With full law enforcement authority granted by state law, the UCPD follows procedures mutually agreed upon with the Cleveland Police Department.

Many of the UCPD's officers are veterans of other departments, notes Ronayne, including Chief Repicky, who has a law enforcement career that spans more than three decades, serving previously as Euclid Police Chief. And although the UCPD has full enforcment authority, it also focuses on a second and very important part of its mission, which is to bridge the gap between the community and the institutions it serves.

"We are often the first to respond to a situation in University Circle because of our close proximity to the area," says Ronayne. "But we also try to create a better community partnership with our residents and the residents of surrounding neighborhoods."

In additon to assisting its 40 institutions with traffic control and security at special events, the UCPD has various programs that help it connect with residents both in University Circle and surrounding neighborhoods. Cops in the Community is just one of the programs the UCPD uses. Through that program alone, the UCPD has established a relationship with the students at nearby Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary, a PreK through eighth-grade school on Moulton Avenue and East 115th Street.

"We purchase school supplies for them before they start school, and we have a program wehre we donate hats and gloves before they go home for Christmas," says Repicky.

In the past, the UCPD also has brought passes to local institutions like the Cleveland History Center, which is only about a half-mile away from the school.

"Giving back to the school and community is very rewarding for us because some of these kids don't have the funds for school supplies or to visit local museums," says Repicky.

This month, people might notice some of the officers of the UCPD with beards.

"That's because it's 'No Shave November'" says Repicky.

An officer pays a fee to not shave for the month, and the UCPD donates those funds to a good cause, such as Transplant HOuse of CLeveland. Another program called Circle Scholars happens after school when students participate in museum education.

Yet another unique program is called Coffee with a Cop.

"Our offices will spend time at local coffee shops and host a dialogue," says Ronayne. "The police buy coffee and pastries and invite the community in so they can express their concerns, including what they see and need in their community. In community policing, it's the residents who are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood.

"It's all about having a forward way of approaching the community, but it really is a time-tested model that goes back to the era of block clubs, block leaders and block captains. And, by the same token, our officers get a better understanding of the environmnet where they are working."

It's all designed to build community partnerships with residents to assure a safe community.

"So the world does not look at our department as a matter of us versus them, but more like 'we,'" says Ronayne. "Our police work has been transformative in its ability to bridge the community with our officers. We are truly a block-by-block police department.

"We are all aelievers that we can not arrest our way out of crime. We need to be partners with the community."

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