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Akron City Council passes police dashcams resolution, discusses civilian review board

Akron City Council, Mayor, virtual meeting
Akron City Council
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Akron City Council members discuss police reform measures during a committee meeting Monday, July 18, 2022.

Three weeks after the shooting death of Jayland Walker by Akron Police, city officials are considering two police reform measures: purchasing dashboard cameras for patrol cars and implementing a civilian review board to monitor complaints about police. An autopsy report released Friday found that Walker suffered at least 46 bullet wounds or grazes in the shooting which followed a car and foot chase.

Council passed a resolution during Monday night’s meeting that had been introduced by Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosely supporting the purchase and installation of dashcams. Mosley and police department staff are conducting research on potential vendors and cost of the cameras.

Once some logistics are ironed out, officials will propose new legislation, Mosley said.

“I thought it would be about a million dollars. I’m being told it may be a little more than that. So, the resolution is for us to encourage and urge,” she said. “The legislation will come after the fact, once we come to an agreement on this.”

Council members had discussed the project in a virtual committee meeting Monday afternoon. Mayor Dan Horrigan and Police Chief Steve Mylett were present for this meeting.

Akron patrol cars used to have dash cameras, Mylett, who was hired as police chief in 2021, said.

“Quite frankly, I was a little shocked that we didn’t have it,” he said. “They were very antiquated systems. I believe when the city adopted the bodycam program … the cost, I think, was prohibitive to have both systems.”

Akron residents and community activists have been calling on city leaders to implement police reforms since Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by eight officers after a car and foot chase. Walker's family and legal team have specifically called for dash cameras.

During the council meeting's public comment period, some residents questioned how dash cameras would help with police accountability.

In response, Mosley reiterated that Walker's family had called for dashcams and said the need for them is personal.

Her nephews died recently after driving into a river during a police chase, she said.

“We’ll never know what the stop was about. We still don’t know who those officers were. We’ll never know what made them so afraid to run, which resulted in their death, because there were no dashcams," Mosley said.

Preliminary information on cost and potential vendors should be known by the end of the week, Mylett added.

Ward 7 Councilman Donnie Kammer, who chairs council’s public safety committee, supports the project but said council needs to be proactive in getting the funds for it.

“I’m asking us to turn that resolution into some kind of funding mechanism so we can move forward with at least 12 to 20 dash cameras,” Kammer said.

The Black Elected Officials of Summit County, a group of local Black leaders including State Rep. Emilia Sykes, State Rep. Tavia Galonski and State Senator Vernon Sykes, sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine asking for funding from the state to buy and install the cameras, Mylett added.

During the council meeting, residents also spoke out in opposition to Akron Police officers being authorized to remove their name tags. Mylett authorized this due to threats the department has been receiving, he said.

"This is all under the understanding that the FBI had told us there were two very credible threats against officers from two different extremist groups that placed bounties on our officers heads," Mylett said.

The officers can still be identified by their badge or patrol car numbers, he added.

Residents also asked why the council meetings continue to be held virtually. A council spokesperson told Ideastream Public Media the meeting was held remotely due to concerns of a bomb threat, while Chief Mylett said his office was not aware of any threat.

Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal asked Council President Margo Sommerville for clarification on the threat.

"We will get to the bottom of it. We'll make sure all of council is aware," Sommerville said. "I'm going to go back to the source, and we'll find out."

Council also passed a resolution urging Akron’s police union to have conversations with city officials about racial equity.

Learning about racial bias in policing could help officers better respond to situations involving Black and brown residents, Neal, who sponsored the resolution, said.

“I look forward to working with those who want to help us advance the understanding of equity in our community, but more importantly, the healing that takes place when we do this kind of work," Neal said.

The resolution passed 9 to 4. Councilman Kammer said he opposed because he thought these conversations would be better suited for the city’s labor relations department, rather than council.

City officials were also briefed in the earlier committee meeting on a potential civilian review board that would monitor complaints about the police department.

Council has been considering implementing a review board since 2020, and it was among the recommendations from the city's Racial Justice and Social Justice Taskforce.

Walker’s death and subsequent calls for police reform in the city have placed conversations about the review board back into the spotlight.

City officials, including the mayor’s strategic advisor Emily Collins, have been looking into the structures of citizen review boards in other cities to determine what might be a good fit for Akron, Collins said.

A seven-person board of volunteers appointed by the mayor and council president seems to be the leading suggestion, Collins said.

The board would investigate complaints made against the police department, and also conduct analysis of trends in complaints, she added. They would issue recommendations to the mayor, city council and police chief, Collins said.

City officials also want police to be actively engaged with the community, she said.

“It seems like Cincinnati and New Orleans tend to have really strong models that do that well,” Collins said. “They do a great job in making sure they’re available for public speaking and training and education.”

During public comment, several residents voiced concerns about the board being appointed by the mayor.

"I fear having members selected by the mayor is exactly the kind of half measure that will not result in real change. It will not adequately give voice to the community," said Brody Clinite. "I am concerned that if the city takes half measures to address the problems presented by this crisis, it risks having history repeat itself."

The review board would also potentially oversee and hire a full-time, paid inspector general and an administrative assistant, Collins said.

Mosley added that she hopes the board members would include community activists and parents of gun violence victims.

Whether the review board will be created through a city charter or new legislation has not yet been determined.

Updated: July 19, 2022 at 9:57 AM EDT
This story was updated Tuesday at 9:55am to add more details from Monday's council meeting.
Updated: July 19, 2022 at 7:39 AM EDT
This story was updated Tuesday at 7:30am with information about the council's passage of a dashcam resolution.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.