AKRON Ohio (WJW) – Members of Akron‘s Committee to Improve Police Community Relations on Tuesday say they hope to have enough signatures on the group’s petitions to put a proposed Citizens Oversight Board on the ballot this November.
It would work with a city police auditor to offer citizen insight into police policy and procedure.
It would help oversee officer training with an emphasis on de-escalation techniques and community relations.
“The auditor and the board would be able to review completed investigations into officer misconduct, civilian complaints. It would, on the front end, be able to review policies and procedures around vehicle chase and traffic stops so we are not waiting until after a tragedy happens. We are doing it proactively all of the time,” said Akron City Councilman Shammas Malik.
“It would not the board nor the auditor would be able to impose discipline. It could make recommendations. It could say we disagree with how this matter was handled, but it would not impose discipline directly,” said Malik.
The group’s proposal is one of two that is being introduced in the coming week. The other proposed by Mayor Daniel Horrigan is expected to be introduced to Akron City Council next Monday.
Horrigan’s proposal creates an eleven member board with all of the members appointed by the mayor.
It is proposed to go before voters in November of 2023 for a charter amendment.
Although they are similar in intent, the two proposals differ in that the committee’s proposal would give the board subpoena power, which could conflict with bargaining agreements the city has with the Fraternal Order of Police.
The mayor’s proposal includes the requirement of board members to do ride-alongs with officers to better understand what they do.
“We want to make sure we comply with the collective bargaining agreement. We didn’t want to delegate to an independent citizen group more power and influence than the city would have in its relationship with the police department,” said State Senator Vernon Sykes.
A Citizens Oversight Board has been the topic of discussion in Akron for years, but the work of creating one has gained significant traction since the fatal police involved shooting of Jayland Walker in late June.
Police Chief Steve Mylett says he welcomes a committee if the community feels it creates a closer relationship with the police department and better transparency.
“I’m all about setting expectations. I don’t think a civilian review board is a bad thing. I don’t. If it gives more confidence in the community that there’s transparency with their police department then absolutely I think its a good thing,” said Mylett. “But the question I think you need to ask when people start talking about civilian review boards and such… is what problem are you trying to fix?”
Mylett says of the thousands of community interactions between officers and citizens in 2021, there were relatively few citizen complaints.
“When you look at our data, our data indicates that last year we had 52 complaints out of 150,000 contacts. That’s insanely low and that says something about our police officers because they are interacting with the community frequently,” said Mylett.
In fact, the chief says what is seldom publicized is the number of times officers would have been justified in using deadly force.
“This is a good police department and they work very, very hard at maintaining their professionalism. Our academy is an award-winning police academy… As I onboarded here, I did one-on-one interviews with the majority of the officers here and all of them have a deep, deep desire, a sincere desire to serve and to find ways to protect and serve this community,” said the chief.
Committee members on Tuesday said the proposal for a Citizens Oversight Board is not intended to go after police.
“Safety trust accountability is always what it’s about. We want to work together, not apart. One goal, one city,” said NAACP President Judi Hill.
“We the citizens of Akron deserve a police department that prioritizes safety, prioritizes trust and accountability and not fear and insufficient training,” said Rev. Ray Greene of Freedom Bloc.
If the committee gets its petitions certified in time to get the charter amendment on the ballot for November, members say their work will shift to educating the community about what the board will and will not do.
“This charter amendment will allow the citizens of Akron to make a meaningful change and given the killing of Jayland Walker, we cannot implement this change too soon,” said Rev. Nannett Pitts.