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Summit County Black elected officials call on Akron to pause police chief search

Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron.

Black Elected Officials of Summit County is calling on Akron to pause its search for the next chief of police. The group released a letter Wednesday asking the city to garner a more diverse pool of candidates.

Former Police Chief Steve Mylett retired at the beginning of the year, and although he and the police chief before him were not members of the departmentwhen they were hired, Mayor Shammas Malik announced at the beginning of March that the city will look only at internal candidates due to a legal technicality. Ohio law states hiring an external candidate is unlawful, he said.

The Black elected officials group wants the city to challenge that. It's asking the city to seek the Ohio attorney general's advice on the matter and if he agrees the city can only hire an internal candidate, they want the city to pursue a charter amendment ballot issue on to change Akron's law before filling the police chief role.

The Ohio Revised Code Section 124.44 states: "No positions above the rank of patrol officer in the police department shall be filled by original appointment. Vacancies in positions above the rank of patrol officer in a police department shall be filled by promotion from among persons holding positions in a rank lower than the position to be filled."

Malik already plans to put a charter amendment on the ballot in November giving the city the power to hire external candidates, but the hiring of an internal candidate to serve as police chief is on schedule, with a decision coming this spring, he said.

Although Black Elected Officials of Summit County supports Malik's plan to put a charter amendment on the ballot, the group is concerned the current hiring process will not pull from a diverse group of candidates.

"BEOSC members believe that immediate steps should be taken to address systemic racism in the hiring and promotions of Black and other underrepresented officers in the Akron Police Department," the letter states. "The first step is acknowledging the existence of the dearth of Black leadership that the current system has created."

The letter further states that the group is disappointed in how the search for the next chief of police is going.

"Akron is at a pivotal moment in our history where we thought we were in a position to see meaningful change in our Akron Police Department" the letter states.

Black Elected Officials of Summit County Vice President and Summit County Clerk of Courts Tavia Galonski said she is not concerned that this ask would mean leaving an interim police chief at the helm indefinitely.

"I just believe that if we're going to make the right decision, we don't need to rush, and full consideration should be given to widening the pool, even if you are looking in house," she said.

She wants Malik to hire a police chief that represents the diversity in Akron, she said.

"The good position in policing I feel is when the police officers look like the community that they're serving," Galonski said, adding that diversity would lead to a safer community and an increased feeling of security in the community.

Galonski does not think any minorities in the department could be considered for the job based on rank, she said.

The group is calling on Malik to "remove the structural practices that have made it impossible for Black and other underrepresented officers to move up through the ranks of the Akron Police Department." APD only has one Black captain, one Black lieutenant and eight Black sergeants among its more than 400 officer department.

"This means only 11% of the current department’s leadership is Black," the letter continues. "With the barriers in place, it would take 20-30 years for the department’s top leadership to become truly diverse. This calls for an immediate course correction."

Chief Communications Officer Stephanie Marsh said in an email that the city received the letter and is reviewing it. She said the city thanks Black Elected Officials of Summit County for sharing its thoughts and will respond once the city completes its review.

Updated: March 29, 2024 at 4:26 PM EDT
This story has been updated to add comments from Tavia Galonski and to add updated information on the number of Black sergeants serving in the Akron Police Department.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.