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Akron council member, police union head spar over police reform comments

Brian Lucey, president of Akron Fraternal Lodge #7, addresses city council April 29, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Brian Lucey, president of Akron Fraternal Lodge #7, addresses city council April 29, 2024.

Akron residents' concerns about the police department have inspired one Akron City council member to state he won’t vote for a new police headquarters until the department strengthens its relationship with the community.

“We, in my opinion, are at a stalemate in our community around police and community relations,” Councilmember James Hardy, who represents Ward 8 on the city’s northwest side, said.

Akron residents have repeatedly brought forth concerns about the Akron Police Department at council meetings and community forums in the weeks since anAkron police officer shot and injured a Black teen April 1.

In Monday’s council meeting, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Brian Lucey spoke out against Hardy's comments.

“That sounded like you were for defunding the police,” Lucey said. “Irresponsible statements like that will not attract new candidates to apply here, nor will it help with retention.”

City officials are considering moving the headquarters to one of nine possible sites or renovating the current building, the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center.

It’s one of Mayor Shammas Malik’s top priorities, he said, because the building is in dire need of repairs.

Malik has not yet brought forth any legislation, but Hardy said in a previous meeting that he would hypothetically oppose it.

In response to Lucey, Hardy clarified Monday that he was calling for better conversations between police officers and residents. He wants to see real progress before voting for what will likely be a multi-million-dollar construction project, he said.

“We need whole new norms of police-community engagement. We need to rethink the whole thing, and council can and should support that,” Hardy said.

Hardy hopes to work with Councilmember Jan Davis to brainstorm solutions, he added.

Akron’s police union has repeatedly defended the officer who shot the teen, Ryan Westlake.

In his public comment speech, Lucey said people who call the police with safety concerns have the same rights as “suspects who fight the police.”

“It would be ideal if we never had to use force, but this is Akron, not Mayberry,” Lucey said, referring to the fictional town in "The Andy Griffith Show."

Bodycam footage released by police shows Westlake arriving at Brittain Road and Ottawa Avenue shortly after 7 p.m. on April 1, responding to a call that someone was pointing a gun at homes. The video shows that Westlake fired a shot immediately after asking to see the juvenile's hands and before getting all the way out of his patrol car.

A gun, which police now say was a replica, can be seen lying on the grass between Westlake and the teen.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting. Westlake is on paid administrative leave.

City prosecutors have since charged 15-year-old Tavion Koonce-Williams with having a facsimile weapon.

Other council business

Also on Monday, council heard a presentation from Akron’s tree commission about its efforts to combat a decrease in the city’s tree canopy.

The tree canopy is at 34% and is expected to drop in the coming years, commission chair Sarah Vradenburg said.

The city can’t keep up unless homeowners start participating, Vradenburg said.

“We don’t have enough public land either in parks or street trees in order to make up that loss of tree canopy, so what we need is an effort to work with property owners to understand – you know, plant a tree in your yard.”

Vradenburg said the commission is planning to launch a “tree of the month” campaign, where residents can nominate a tree they like in each ward as a way of highlighting the importance of a tree canopy.

She says Akronites who want to plant a tree in their yard or tree lawn can call 311.

The commission is also hoping to improve its communications with City Council members, who often field complaints calling for trees or brush to be trimmed or removed, she added.

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