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Akron police oversight board elects officers, sets meetings to begin work on police accountability

Akron oversight board meets Friday, March 31, 2023
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media.
Donzella Anuzskiewicz (fourth from left) asks Akron's police auditor Philip Young (sixth from left) a question during the first meeting of the Akron citizen police oversight board on March 31, 2023. The board members pictured, from left, are Beverly Richards, Shawn Peoples, Robert Gippin, Donzella Anuzskiewicz and Brandyn Costa.

Akron’s new citizen police oversight board elected leaders and passed official rules during its first meeting Friday.

The board elected Kemp Boyd, executive director of Love Akron, and Donzella Anuzskiewicz, a former mitigation specialist at the U.S. Northern District Court, as its chair and vice chair. All but one of the nine board members were present for the meeting, which took place in Akron City Council chambers.

The board also approved its rules, which were drafted by the city’s law department and include provisions outlined in the charter, such as requiring the board to schedule regular board meetings.

Ideastream Public Media has requested a copy of the rules. Per the charter, Akron City Council must now approve the rules at an upcoming meeting.

Board members met with Philip Young, the city’s police auditor, whom they will now oversee. Young, who has served as police auditor for 13 years, said he is delighted the board is finally seated.

“I’ve been wanting this for a long time,” Young told the board during the meeting.

Young, who was the sole employee of the auditor’s office until an administrative assistant was hired four months ago, reviews complaints filed against the Akron Police Department.

It has been difficult for Young to request policy changes based on some of the more frequent complaints, he said, partly due to pushback from the police union, and also because he has been working by himself.

Many Akron Police officers are on board with increasing police accountability, Young said, while others “want to do whatever they want.”

Currently, investigations into complaints are handled internally by Akron Police, and are conducted by the supervisor of the officer being investigated, Young said. That’s one example of a policy he’d like to see changed, Young said, but Akron’s police union rejected that idea when the most recent collective bargaining agreement was adopted.

Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett also introduced himself to the board members and said he is looking forward to the board’s work.

“It’s been a long journey to get here, and the day is finally here,” Mylett said.

Mylett hopes the board can increase transparency about the department’s procedures and “reassure the public that there is nothing behind the curtain,” he said.

The board’s main role will be to review complaints filed against Akron Police and recommend policy changes. Members also briefly discussed their role in conducting “investigations” into complaints.

According to the charter, the board’s oversight may include “investigation of alleged misconduct by members of the Division of Police” and “conduct investigations of the operations and policies of the Division of Police.”

The board also heard guidance from the city’s law department about its adherence to Ohio’s open meetings laws. The board’s meetings are open to the public and meeting minutes must be taken.

Diane Lewis had a scheduling conflict and was not able to attend the Friday meeting.

The board voted to schedule its meetings for Wednesday evenings in April.

In the next meeting, they hope to hear a report from Young about the department’s frequent complaints.

The board is also hoping to meet with community members who called for the oversight board and worked to gather support for it at an upcoming Saturday breakfast.

The board members are: Beverly Richards, CEO of Easterseals, a nonprofit focused on individuals with disabilities; Tristan Reed, a local mental health professional; Shawn Peoples, a retired Canton police officer and current bus driver for Akron METRO RTA;
Donzella Anuzskiewicz, retired mitigation specialist for the U.S. Northern District Court; Diane Lewis, community organizer; Caitlin Castle, College Access Program Manager at Firestone Community Learning Center; Robert Gippin, former judge at the Summit County Common Pleas Court and Kemp Boyd, director of Love Akron, a Christian-based community center.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.