© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik talks public safety, policing in first state of the city address

 Akron Mayor Shammas Malik gives his first state of the city address on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.
Joe Gunderman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Mayor Shammas Malik gives his first state of the city address on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik presented his vision for the city in his first state of the city address Wednesday.

Taking the stage at the Akron Civic Theatre on his birthday to a standing ovation, Malik touted the accomplishments his administration has made in his first 100 days in office.

"When I think about the state of our city, I think about a state of change," he said. "I think about a city on the verge of big things, about positive momentum and forward movement. To put it plainly, I think the state of our city is changing for the better."

Malik hit the ground running on day one to accomplish the goals he laid out during his campaign, he said. 55 of the 73 action items listed in his 100 day plan have been accomplished, with 18 in progress, according to the city's 100 day tracker.

Transparency, communication and engagement have been a key goal of the administration, Malik said, including holding press conferences, townhalls and gathering community feedback.

"Tonight, I'm pleased to say that not only do we have our wonderful ASL [American Sign Language] interpreters here," he said, "but we're also having the speech simultaneously translated into Nepali and Spanish."

The administration has also worked on modernizing city operation, including launching the 311 app and improving the enforcement of housing code.

Budget wins and community involvement

Malik touted the $815 million operating budget city council passed in March, which focused on public safety.

"We have the highest amount of APD (Akron Police Department) officers in 20 years and the highest amount of firefighter/medics in 30 year," he said.

The city also needs to take care of first responders' mental health, he added.

But budget negotiations also meant making cuts called for by council. Malik eliminated three administration positions from his proposed budget - a data and transparency specialist, a public engagement specialist and an environmental policy specialist - after councilmembers criticized the amount of money going toward the mayor's office. Malik is not giving up on the initiatives these roles would have worked on, he said.

"I look forward to proving how these roles can save us time, save us money, get you information quicker and ultimately make all of our lives easier," he said.

Budget negotiations weren't Malik's "favorite part" of his first 100 days, he said, but he pledged to always work with city council even when they don't see eye to eye.

Malik announced that next year the city will begin participatory budgeting, a process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget.

"At the end of the day, this is taxpayer money," he said, "so we want to make sure that taxpayers have a role, a direct role in helping to decide how that money is spent, especially when it comes to the capital projects that we're seeing in our neighborhoods."

Malik plans to introduce participatory budgeting with the capital budget process, he said.

"You can easily envision a system where you have a participatory budgeting night and have maybe 10 projects per ward, 10 wards," he said in an interview with Ideastream Public Media after his address, "and folks go to their community centers and weigh in."

Malik hopes to start beginning the capital and operating budgets processes in the fall ahead of the new year, he said. Participatory budgeting will be an experimental process for the city.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik (left) speaks into a microphone on stage next to GAR Foundation Program Officer Bronlynn Thurman.
Andrew Meyer
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Mayor Shammas Malik answers audience questions asked by GAR Foundation Program Officer Bronlynn Thurman on April 10, 2024.

Public safety

Public safety continues to be Malik's number on priority, he said, and the city has already taken steps to better address it. The city launched a mental health co-responder pilot program in March, the Summit County Outreach Team, or SCOUT.

"Over the first month, SCOUT has taken 85 calls for service," Malik said. "They've safely transported 16 patients for further treatment."

Malik also addressed the issue of diversity in the police department, a topic the city has recently been drawing criticism for from Black elected officials in Summit County. The next cadet class for Akron police is "one of the most diverse classes of cadets we've ever had in the history of the department," Malik said.

The city is also looking for a solution for its "deteriorating" police station, he said. By the end of June, the city will have an answer on the future of the police station in front of city council.

"We cannot prioritize public safety if we continue to let the current building deteriorate," he said.

Gun violence has been spiking in Akron and across the country, and the city cannot end the violence simply through policing, Malik said. This summer, the city will launch a street team pilot program, he announced.

"This program will hire and train credible messengers, people who are able to speak directly with those who are most likely to be involved in gun violence, especially younger people," Malik said, "because they have lived experience, a history of involvement with our criminal justice system."

These programs have been proven effective across the country, he said. The city likely will contract with a nonprofit that already provides mental health support that can hire and train street outreach workers.

Changes to policing policies

Malik acknowledged that trust in police is missing in some communities. An Akron police officer shot a 15 year old carrying a fake gun in early April, sparking outrage and criticism from the community.

"I will share all that I can as I'm able to in a timely and transparent way," he said.

Thursday morning, a new vehicle pursuit policy will go into effect, Malik announced.

"Our department will no longer conduct vehicle chases for equipment violations alone, such as a broken side mirror," he said to thunderous applause.

Eight Akron police officers shot and killed Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man, in 2022 after he failed to pull over for an equipment failure. Outrage over his death led to voter approval of an amendment to the city charter creating a Citizens' Police Oversight Board, which is still finding its footing in investigating police misconduct.

"In the coming months, we'll be reviewing and revising other policies, including around chemical spray and crowd control," Malik announced. "We'll do that in partnership with the auditor's office. We'll do that in partnership with the Akron Police Department. And we'll do this with opportunities for the public to comment as well."

In the wake of Walker's death and a grand jury's decision not to indict the officers involved in the shooting in 2023, the Akron Police Department also came under fire for using chemical irritants to disperse protesters, including peaceful crowds, children and journalists.

Police chief search

Survey responses from the community on the search for the next police chief found that people want the department to focus on crime reduction and crime prevention, work on diversifying the department, treat all residents equally, foster a positive relationship with the community and be held accountable for their actions, Malik said.

The process to find a new chief has been difficult, he continued, with the city announcing in March that he cannot legally hire an external candidate.

"I have a lot of respect for the internal candidates," Malik said, "but this came as unwelcome and very frustrating news."

The process has been "the hardest thing" he's dealt with as mayor so far, he said, adding that people he respect have called on him to pause the search until the city can pass a charter amendment allowing him to hire an external candidate.

"I really believe that in order to undertake that systemic change, we need a permanent police chief who can lead the department, who can implement a vision, who can make decisions in a way an acting chief simply cannot," Malik explained.

The city will also be renegotiating contract with the police union this year, which a permanent chief can better assist with, he said.

Malik is committed to putting a charter amendment on the ballot in November to broaden the candidate pool for police and fire leadership, he said. He plans to release details about a committee to lead the drafting of the amendment in the coming weeks, and he invited the Black Elected Officials of Summit County, one of the biggest critics of the search process, to participate in the committee.

"In many cases I share those concerns," Malik said. "I've been clear with folks I'm very frustrated, and I have incredible respect for the internal candidates. But I'm very frustrated with how this process played out."

But hiring a new police chief isn't the only way to diversify the city's police force, he added.

"One of the things that we're working on [is] lateral hires in the Akron Police Department, so if you have five years with another department, you can come on board. Until today, you need to go through the entire academy to do that and so that's just not sensible," Malik said. "At one point, I would like us to have lateral hires for lieutenants or sergeants or captains for supervisors where we don't have enough diversity in those ranks."

But these changes have to be negotiated with the union, which makes hiring a permanent police chief important, he added.

The Akron Civic Theatre's marquee advertises the state of the city.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
The Akron Civic Theatre's marquee advertises the state of the city on April 10, 2024.

Revitalizing communities

Akron will announce a request for proposals Thursday for ideas on how to transform the Innerbelt, Malik announced.

"It's a historic scar on the city," he said, "but it's an opportunity for a new beginning."

The city will work hand in hand with the community to decide what's next for the decommissioned section of the Innerbelt, he said.

Additionally, this summer, the city will launch a downtown community development corporation, he said.

"We need someone who wakes up every day thinking about downtown real estate, attracting businesses, jobs and residents to right here on Main Street," Malik said.

Malik will continue to work with neighborhood partners to support small businesses, remove blighted buildings and grow the community, he said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.