Here's what you need to know about the two different civilian review police boards proposed in Akron
There are two different proposals for a civilian police review board in Akron: a charter amendment going before voters in November and legislation being voted on by city council as soon as next week.
The charter amendment was crafted by some local leaders and advocacy organizations, primarily the Akron NAACP and Freedom BLOC. Community organizers gathered more than 2,000 valid signatures to get the amendment on the ballot.
The legislation was proposed by Mayor Dan Horrigan’s office.
If the charter amendment passes, it will be codified in the city’s charter. If the legislation passes, it will go into effect immediately, but will not amend the city’s charter. The ordinance indicates a plan to put a charter amendment on the ballot in November 2023.
Both proposed review boards are similar, but not quite the same.
One key difference: how to handle investigations of police
The mayor’s proposal specifies that while its board will review and refer complaints, all investigations will be done internally by the Akron Police Department or handed off to state or federal authorities. The investigations would then be reviewed by the board once completed.
Proponents of the charter amendment have said this review board cannot conduct its own investigations of police misconduct, but it could weigh in on the findings of investigations and offer recommendations about policy changes.
However, the mayor, some council members and staff in the city’s law department are concerned that the language describing investigations in the charter amendment could conflict with the city’s contract with the police union.
The petition states that “oversight shall include … the investigation of alleged misconduct by members of the Division of Police” and says the board and the Office of the Police Auditor could “on its own initiative conduct investigations of the operations and policies of the Division of Police.”
Emily Collins, strategic advisor to the mayor, said another concern is that the board could have subpoena power. The petition states the board “shall have the authority to compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of documents.”
“A board that investigates of its own accord and has subpoena power - both of those things lend themselves to investigations that we believe would be outside of the collective bargaining agreement process,” Collins said. “That is a problem.”
Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik, who helped craft the charter amendment, said “investigation” is a broad term.
“Investigation could mean – investigate the policies and practices around traffic stops, right?” he said. “I don’t believe that would violate the collective bargaining agreement.”
Malik added that if there is a provision in the charter amendment that indeed conflicts with the collective bargaining agreement, it could not be permitted. He also said that provisions in the charter amendment state that they are “subject to the restrictions of federal and state law.”
Both review boards would review citizen complaints against police, issue recommendations for how the department can improve, offer input on trainings and focus on community engagement.
One of the biggest differences is the number of members on the board and how they would be appointed.
In the citizen-led ballot initiative, the board would consist of nine members – three people appointed by the mayor and six by city council. The members would be required to come from diverse backgrounds, and some must specifically have worked in the fields pertaining to mental health, criminal justice and law enforcement.
Mayor Dan Horrigan has proposed an 11-member review board – 6 appointed by the mayor and 5 by city council, Horrigan said in a committee meeting.
His proposal calls for some members to have backgrounds in criminal justice, racial equity and law enforcement. Members are recommended to participate in the police department’s citizens academy and complete 40 hours of “ride-alongs” with officers.
Another key difference is that the mayor’s proposal creates a new department, the Inspector General’s Office, which would review laws and procedures of the police department and other city employees.
The charter amendment outlines an Office of Independent Police Auditor, which would review policing practices. Akron currently has a police auditor, Phillip Young. The amendment does not specify whether the current police auditor would fill the new position, which would be created.
The police auditor does not currently have much power to affect change, Freedom BLOC executive director Ray Greene said at an August 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.
Both review boards would be required to issue reports on their actions and recommendations regularly.
What happens if both pass?
City council and community members alike have expressed confusion and concern that there are two proposals circulating that are very similar, but have key differences.
The ordinance is due for a third reading and possible passage at city council next Monday, Sept. 26. If it passes, applications to be on the review board would go out shortly thereafter.
If the charter amendment passes in the fall, though, the review board would have to be amended to fit the charter amendment. That means any conflicting provisions – such as the number of people on the board – would have to be changed.
The city’s law department has also brought concerns that the police union could challenge the charter amendment in court if it passes in November, which could keep the review board locked in litigation for some time.
Council President Margo Sommerville said she supports the mayor’s ordinance, especially in the event that the charter amendment would fail or not hold up in court.
“(It’s) another vehicle that can still get us to the place in which we need to be – a place in which, maybe we can get there a little bit faster, in case we do have some issues, legally, that we might not be able to navigate,” Sommerville said.