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Akron City Council calls special meeting to put civilian review board on the November ballot

JudiHill_NAACP_review_board_press_conference
Anna Huntsman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP, provides details on a proposed civilian review board at a press conference at First Congregational Church in Akron on Sept. 6, 2022.

Akron residents will likely get the chance to vote on the creation of a civilian police review board this November.

The Summit County Board of Elections has verified thousands of signatures on a petition compiled by advocacy groups including Freedom BLOC and the Akron NAACP.

State law requires city council to now approve an ordinance placing the initiative on the ballot. Council has scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. to formally put the amendment on the November 2022 ballot.

Akron advocacy groups, including the local chapter of the NAACP and Freedom BLOC, provided additional details Tuesday on the proposed ballot initiative that would create a civilian oversight board of the police department.

The intent of the review board is to improve community and police relations and ensure more oversight of Akron Police, said Judi Hill, Akron NAACP president.

It would give community members more input on police procedures, trainings and misconduct investigations, she said.

“Our goal is very, very simple. (Give) all the citizens in Akron the opportunity to participate, be a part of the process from the beginning to the end,” Hill said.

Hill spoke alongside other community leaders, as well as elected officials and members of the clergy, at a press conference at First Congregational Church in Akron.

Though a civilian review board has been in the works for years, the ballot initiative was sparked by the death of 25-year-old Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by Akron Police in June.

More than 7,000 people signed a petition to get the review board on the November ballot, Hill said. The proposal is a charter amendment, meaning if approved, it would be codified in the city’s charter.

Advocates said a key part of the plan is to expand and strengthen the role of the city’s police auditor, a position created in 2007 and currently held by Phillip Young.

The police auditor does not currently have much power to affect change, Freedom BLOC executive director Ray Greene said at the news conference.

“The role has no access to records, and all complaints he receives must be turned over to the police department for investigation. The current police auditor is currently excluded from investigating any officer involved misconduct,” Greene said.

There have also been staffing challenges in the police auditor’s office through the years, Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik added.

The charter amendment would create a 3-person office with a full-time auditor, deputy auditor and assistant, he said. The citizens review board would oversee the auditor with hiring and firing power.

“It's really crucial that the police auditor not report directly and not have their employment directly managed by the mayor or by city council, because there may be times when they need to disagree with the mayor or city council,” Malik said.

The citizens review board would not impose discipline or changes directly. While it would review internal investigations of misconduct and offer perspective, Malik added that it would not conduct any investigations itself.

Malik acknowledged that the city might have to renegotiate its contract with the police union if the charter amendment passes.

"That cannot mean that we tie our hands. That cannot mean that we do not pursue justice,” Malik said. “Contracts are renegotiated all the time.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Dan Horrigan announced last week he plans to propose an ordinance to city council with a similar plan for a civilian review board.

Horrigan is proposing an 11-member board all appointed by the mayor, while the community groups’ petition calls for a 9-member board with 3 people appointed by the mayor and the rest by city council.

Supporters of the charter amendment believe their proposal is stronger and more inclusive. Hill said the mayor’s ordinance doesn’t focus on citizens.

“The mayor would select people, the mayor would suggest what their role is … and I thought, well, that’s not a citizens review board. It has nothing about citizens involved in it,” Hill said.

Hill and others said they were surprised when Horrigan’s proposal was announced on the same day petitions were turned in to the city clerk’s office.

“I don’t think they took our petition drive very seriously maybe, at first. I don’t know. I don’t know if they thought we would be able to collect the signatures in the time frame,” Hill said.

Another key difference is that Horrigan’s proposal is an ordinance, which means if passed, the review board would not immediately be codified in the city’s charter. Charter amendments are superior to ordinances.

Updated: September 7, 2022 at 12:52 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect the Sept. 7 announcement that the BOE verified the signatures and Akron City Council has called a special meeting Sept. 8 to place the charter amendment on the ballot.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.