CLEVELAND, OH — Cleveland’s police union will not endorse a presidential candidate in 2020, reversing course from last election cycle when the union endorsed Donald Trump.
The 2016 endorsement marked the first time in the 51-year history of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association that the union endorsed a presidential candidate and sowed division between white and minority police officers.
The decision to endorse ultimately cost former CPPA president Steve Loomis his position atop the union representing some 1,400 rank-and-file officers. Loomis became a favorite of the Trump campaign and would eventually attend one of the inaugural balls after the New York real estate tycoon’s electoral college win over Hillary Clinton.
Loomis pushed for the union endorsement of Trump and ultimately lost the 2017 union election to Jeff Follmer.
Follmer, who served as union head prior to Loomis’ election in 2014 campaigned in 2017 for his former post in part by telling union members he would not force them to vote to endorse a presidential candidate. The union’s board of directors, a group of 30 officers, voted not to endorse candidates for president or for mayor in future elections.
Trump has become a friend of law enforcement, all but dismantling the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s efforts to reform problematic police departments accused of years and sometimes decades of unconstitutional, violent policing. Loomis served as one of the loudest voices against such an effort in Cleveland that resulted in an agreement known as a consent decree that remains in effect to this day.
Black Lives Matter and the “defund the police” movement gained momentum in the spring of 2020 after the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd, whose death beneath the knee of a police officer was captured on video, and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
The movements gave Trump an ideal foil, painting Democratic-led cities as lawless, violent and rampant with crime. His Nixonian law-and-order rhetoric cultivated during police demonstrations across the country, including the May 30 demonstration in downtown Cleveland.
Trump ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection tactical officers to Portland, Oregon which resulted in violent clashes with protesters. He also used federal officers to clear church grounds of peaceful protesters near the White House for a photo opportunity. He promised during a Thursday interview on Fox News’ personality Sean Hannity’s show that he would send police, sheriff’s deputies and U.S. attorneys to monitor elections.
The tough-on-crime posture earned him the nod from the NYPD’s 24,000-member union, its first-ever presidential endorsement. Cleveland’s police union opted to abstain.
Follmer said board members discussed the presidential election during a meeting on Wednesday. Union leaders reiterated their desire to abstain from holding an endorsement vote for either Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.
“It’s a big decision, which is why we had the directors vote on it,” Follmer said.
Vince Montague, the president of the Cleveland Police Black Shield Association, a union within CPPA that represents Black officers, praised the CPPA’s decision. Montague said the decision to endorse Trump in 2016 divided officers and caused distrust between the community and police.
“There’s a diverse group of officers in the CPPA and it’s good they’re respecting the fact that everyone has different political ideologies,” Montague said. “It caused a divide because we’re all police officers, but we’re all different. And what we do reflects throughout the community.”
Montague said the decision to endorse Trump likely hurt the department’s efforts to recruit and hire minority officers, a years-long effort to diversify the department to reflect the racial makeup of the city more accurately.
Loomis, who in early August helped organize a boat parade on Lake Erie for Trump’s fundraising appearance in Bratenahl, declined to comment on the union’s decision to stay out of this year’s election.
The CPPA’s decision to seek a presidential endorsement in 2016 came one week after Loomis met with Trump during a roundtable in Brook Park about two months before the election.
Loomis cited Trump’s pro-police stance, especially in the face of years of criticizing the Obama-era reforms that led to the critical examination of the department he represented.
The decision was controversial from the start, both inside and outside the police department. The union initially voted 25-24 to hold a presidential endorsement election. Only 284 of more than 1,200 officers at the time cast a vote, with 216 voting to endorse Trump.
The Black Shield Association criticized the process at every turn.
Then-Black Shield President Lynn Hampton said that the endorsement was especially troubling given that Cleveland police was, and remains, under the binding agreement with the Justice Department to clean up its act.
NAACP President Danielle Sydnor said Thursday that the 2016 endorsement was a “slap in the face” to many Cleveland residents, but that most people realized it was the union leadership, not necessarily the officers, driving the push to endorse Trump.
“I think it’s very unnerving when we find ourselves in a position where unions led support to people at the federal, state or local level that have a history of not supporting progress and things that will lead to changes we want to see in the community,” Sydnor said. “I’m sure this is a good thing for their members and for the community to stay out of this endorsement and let their members decide for themselves who to vote for.”