The proposed charter amendment, Improving Police-Community Relations and Establishing a Citizens’ Police Oversight Board, is a massive community-led initiative to enshrine police reform guidelines, a Citizens’ Police Oversight Board, and peacebuilding practices into the City of Akron Charter. Community leaders worked with the Committee to Improve Police-Community Relations to draft the charter amendment, relying on a variety of recommendations and reports, including Akron City Council’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative and the City of Akron Racial Equity and Social Justice Task Force.
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The goal of the charter amendment is three-fold:
- Transparency: create a permanent 9-member Citizens’ Police Oversight Board that represents the diversity of Akron, and from perspectives including faith-based, law enforcement, and mental health.
- Accountability: establish a Police Auditor Office with budget, independent of city officials, to review police conduct and policies, and make public reports.
- Training: require training to improve community policing skills, de-escalation and conflict management, race and implicit bias training, and mental health crisis intervention techniques.
The intent of the charter amendment is to create a safer city by ensuring all citizens equal protection under the law and to work together with city officials and the Akron Police Department to create a social environment conducive to peace, justice, and prosperity.
A legislative change, such as the new ordinance recently proposed by the Mayor and approved by City Council, is insufficient because ordinances are decided by the thirteen City Councilors. Such ordinances can be altered or revoked at any point by City Council, but a charter amendment cannot. Issue 10 will be on the ballot this year, giving Akron residents direct democratic input in its passage.
As proposed, the charter amendment and Citizens’ Police Oversight Board would:
- Give the Independent Police Auditor actual independence to ensure that oversight is seen as fair by all members of the community and by law enforcement. The auditor will report to the Citizen’s Oversight Board and be solely directed by the Citizens’ Police Oversight Board which will be made up of members of the public totally independent from City Council, city administration, and any city politics.
- Allow the Independent Police Auditor clearly defined legal authority to access information. Currently, the auditor lacks formal power under city ordinances to access Akron Police Department information. To be able to operate effectively, the auditor must have the authority to access information and mechanisms to enforce this, with appropriate safeguards.
- Allow for adequate staffing and funding of the office of the Independent Police Auditor. The Akron Police Department has approximately 450 officers and one auditor cannot effectively provide oversight. The auditor’s office should have a budget for at least three staff including a deputy auditor/investigator and an administrative/communications assistant to help with community engagement.
- Create a mechanism to review specific instances of misconduct. Currently, investigations of misconduct or officer-involved use of force are generally handled internally by the Akron Police Department. That process should continue, however, the Independent Police Auditor should be empowered to offer a second opinion and make public reports to the City Council and Police Chief when they disagree with the findings of investigations or proposed discipline.
- Foster broader public safety. Oversight is only one piece of the current conversation around policing and public safety. There are many calls for changes in other areas, including hiring and training, use of technology, and non-police responses to calls for service. With additional staffing, the Independent Police Auditor’s office, together with the Citizens’ Police Oversight Board, could help gather data and present reports to City Council, partnering with the Akron Police Department and other city officials to engage the community – serving as a focal point for broader, systemic transparency and conversation to further public safety in Akron.
- As proposed, the charter amendment will be interpreted and applied in a manner that is consistent with the terms of any relevant collective bargaining agreement (the contract negotiated between the Mayor, on behalf of the City of Akron, and the Akron Police Department) and any provision held invalid will be severable. While the terms of this may need to be mediated, the proposed charter amendment does not violate the collective bargaining agreement.
- Establish a Citizens’ Police Oversight Board from an open and transparent application process. Three (3) members shall be appointed by the Mayor with the consent of City Council, and six (6) members shall be appointed by City Council by a two-thirds majority of the council members.
- Members of the Citizen’s Oversight Board will be representative of the diverse communities within the City of Akron on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, disability, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and geographic region. Every member will be a resident of the City of Akron and no more than two members may reside in the same ward.
- In making appointments to the Citizen’s Oversight Board, the Mayor and City Council will endeavor to include the following: an attorney with criminal justice and/or civil rights experience; a member between the ages of 18 and 35; a member from the faith-based community; a member with a professional background in mental health services; a member affiliated with an organization that represents economically disadvantaged and underserved citizens of Akron; and a member with a professional background in law enforcement.
- The Independent Police Auditor and the Citizen’s Oversight Board will provide external and independent oversight and review of policing practices. This oversight will include complaints received from the public, the investigation of alleged misconduct by members of the Akron Police Department, and the public reporting of findings and recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.
As proposed, the charter amendment and Citizens’ Police Oversight Board would not have the ability to impose any discipline on police officers or mandate anything.
History of the Charter Amendment
The charter amendment proposal is the culmination of years of discussions within the community around the topic of police accountability. Akron’s police auditor role was created in 2007, and since then, it has had many challenges – part-time staffing, a lack of access to information, and a lack of independence from the rest of city government.
In recent years, there has been renewed focus on improving the police oversight role – both from within city government and across the community. The killing of Jayland Walker on June 27, 2022 has underscored the need to move from discussion to action, and to bring a proposal before voters for their consideration on the November 2022 ballot – as occurred in Columbus in 2020 and Cleveland in 2021.
A petition to add the charter amendment was circulated throughout the Akron community. The Freedom BLOC, the Akron NAACP, and other community organizers collected 7,552 signatures, more than 2.5 times the required signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot. After validation (which excludes petitioners whose addresses or signatures were illegible, who were not registered to vote, or whose current address is different from the one on their voter registration), the petition had 3,315 valid signatures (2,678 were required).
Presenting petitioners for the proposed charter amendment, in alphabetical order:
Shammas Malik, Council Member, Ward 8, Akron City Council
Linda Omobien, Council Member, At-Large, Akron City Council
Rev. Dr. Joyce A. Penfield, Akron Interfaith Social Justice Group
Rev. Nanette P. Pitt, Senior Minister, First Congregational Church of Akron
Rev. Dr. Roderick C. Pounds, Sr., Pastor, Second Baptist Church
Committee to Improve Police-Community Relations
In an ongoing effort to strengthen police-community relations and build a safe, equitable, just community where all Akron residents are valued and respected, the Committee to Improve Police-Community Relations was formed in August 2022.
Chaired by Judi Hill, President of the Akron Chapter of the NAACP, and representing diverse community and faith leaders long committed to the safety and dignity of all community members, the Committee to Improve Police-Community Relations is leading an urgent grassroots campaign to pass a charter amendment providing police reform guidelines, a Citizens’ Police Oversight Board, and peacebuilding practices in the Akron community.
Each member of the committee brings essential expertise and experience in civil rights, community organizing, policing, local government, and faith and healing.
Chair: Judi Hill, President, Akron NAACP • BIO • Email
Rev. Ray Greene, Executive Director, The Freedom BLOC • BIO • Email
Linda Omobien, Council Member, At-Large, Akron City Council • BIO • Email
Rev. Dr. Joyce Penfield, Akron Interfaith Social Justice Group • BIO • Email
Rev. Nanette Pitt, Senior Minister, First Congregational Church of Akron • BIO • Email
Rev. Dr. Roderick Pounds, Pastor, Second Baptist Church • Email
Veronica Sims, Council Member, District 5, Summit County Council • BIO • Email
Shammas Malik, Council Member, Ward 8, Akron City Council • BIO • Email
Senator Dr. Vernon Sykes, District 28, Ohio State Senate • BIO • Email