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Akron groups collecting signatures to force November vote on civilian police review board

Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Ray Greene, director of Freedom BLOC, pictured here with volunteers in July 2022 discussing plans for upcoming organizing efforts. Freedom BLOC and Akron NAACP members have been gathering signatures to put a civilian review board on the ballot this fall.

Akron residents may get the opportunity to vote this November on whether to implement a civilian review board that would monitor complaints against the police and give disciplinary recommendations.

Local non-profits Freedom BLOC, a Black-led organizing group, and the Akron NAACP are gathering signatures for a petition to put the initiative on the ballot, Freedom BLOC director Ray Greene, Jr. told Ideastream Public Media.

About 6,400 people have signed already, Greene said. They need 2,700 of those signatures to be from registered voters who live in Akron for the ballot initiative to go forward.

“We’re going to collect throughout the rest of the week and turn it in next week,” Greene said. “So, this will be on the ballot this year, and we will win it.”

The proposed review board would have nine people – six appointed by Akron City Council and three by the mayor, he added.

Members of Freedom BLOC and the local NAACP have been collecting signatures in various neighborhoods for several weeks, and the reaction to the review board has been positive, Greene said.

“For the most part, everyone’s been signing the petition to get this on the ballot,” Greene said. “They want to see change in Akron just as bad as we want to see.”

Greene and Judi Hill, executive director of the Akron NAACP, will provide more details on the campaign for the ballot initiative in a press conference Monday afternoon.

City leaders have considered implementing a civilian review board for years, but the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker in late June rocked the Akron community and renewed calls for police reform, including the civilian review board.

The review board could either be created through legislation passed by the 13-member city council or a charter amendment approved by voters.

Community organizers pushed for the latter. Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik also supports that effort.

“It creates a stronger, more independent framework if it is rooted in the city’s charter, really, the city’s constitution,” Malik said in a previous interview with Ideastream. “From a legitimacy standpoint, it’s important that more than 13 people vote on this … I think it’s important that we have the public have an opportunity to weigh in.”

In a recent council committee meeting, officials from Mayor Dan Horrigan’s office recommended the review board have 7 members appointed by the mayor and city council president.

During public comment periods at recent city council meetings, residents spoke out against having the mayor and council president appoint the members.

In its current iteration, the mayor would be responsible for appointing just three of the nine board members. Greene wants community organizations to be involved in the process, as well.

“The demographics need to look like the city of Akron,” he said. “It needs to have subpoena power. It needs to be able to put together mandates like de-escalation training and things like that. So, it’s a very comprehensive civilian review board with teeth that allows for us to have change in the city.”

If the review board initiative meets the threshold of valid signatures, city council will have to hold a special meeting in August to put it on the ballot, Malik said. Council does not have a scheduled meeting in August, and the deadline for the November ballot is in mid-September, he said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.