© 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's police oversight board approves rules, this time with less investigative power

Chair of Akron's Citizens' Police Oversight Board Kemp Boyd (left) introduces the board's rules during a city council committee meeting Dec. 4, 2023.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Chair of Akron's Citizens' Police Oversight Board Kemp Boyd (left) introduces the board's original rules during a city council committee meeting Dec. 4, 2023. Bob Gippin (right) is the chair of the board's governance subcommittee.

Akron’s civilian police oversight board is trying once again to adopt official rules. The new rules give the board less investigative authority than a previous version that was rejected by Akron City Council in late 2023.

The Citizens’ Police Oversight Board unanimously approved new rules during its meeting Wednesday. The board will now propose them to Akron City Council for approval, which is required in the city’s charter, as early as council's next meeting on Monday, Feb. 12.

Unlike the earlier version of the rules, the new proposed rules permit the board to investigate complaints of police misconduct after the Akron Police Department’s internal affairs unit has already completed its own investigation of the complaints.

Previously, board members wanted to be able to investigate complaints at the same time as the police department's Office of Professional Standards and Accountability.

That was criticized both by leaders of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, the city’s police union, as well as some city council members, who said simultaneous investigations could jeopardize the outcomes.

The new rules ultimately give the board more limited investigatory power, said Bob Gippin, chair of the board’s governance subcommittee.

While most board members still want to have broader investigative authority, they are asking city officials to request that authority when they renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the FOP later this year, he said.

“We’ve remained of the view that we could and should be able to investigate matters while the department is doing its own investigation, and we still think that, but we understand that just was not something that was going to be acceptable to council,” Gippin said. “We are hoping that the city will negotiate with the FOP to give us that authority or something like it in the new contract negotiations.”

The board does not currently have the capability to do simultaneous investigations, Gippin added, because they have not yet hired an auditor or deputy police auditor, who will be tasked with conducting the actual investigations.

And, the board’s review subcommittee is still leafing through a backlog of misconduct complaints and use-of-force investigations that the previous auditor had been looking into.

“For the time being, it really won’t make any significant difference because our practical ability, even once the auditor and deputy auditor are in place, to actually do simultaneous investigations would be very limited. It would be a very rare thing,” Gippin said.

Gippin is optimistic that city council will approve the new rules because city lawyers have already looked at the draft and given insight on the city’s agreement with the FOP, he said.

The board sent the new rules to the FOP for feedback and hasn’t heard back, but Gippin is hopeful they are satisfied with this version.

“If that’s the case, then I think we’re really going to be on a different footing, and I think can really move forward much more easily,” Gippin said.

The CPOB has been able to work much more quickly on the rules and other business under the new administration, he added.

Both Mayor Shammas Malik and his chief of strategy, Rev. Nanette Pitt, were petitioners on the charter amendment that voters approved in 2022 to create the oversight board.

“I just feel like we’re just on a, now, a good track. I feel a change. I really think we’re now looking at making some real progress,” Gippin said. “It wasn’t that the Horrigan administration was non-cooperative with us, but the Malik administration – they are fully supportive of us.”

Under the new rules, board members are also permitted to review Akron Police Department policies and officer conduct, including use-of-force incidents, and issue recommendations about potential policy changes.

Additionally, the new rules state board members themselves should not be involved in the complaint investigations; instead, the Office of the Independent Police Auditor should handle the investigations, unless there are vacancies in that office. The CPOB oversees the auditor’s office.

The board is working to onboard a police auditor in the coming weeks. They’ve already extended an offer to Anthony Finnell, a national police oversight consultant who has worked with oversight boards in other U.S. cities.

However, board members want the public to give input before they officially hire Finnell.

Finnell and his wife are coming to Akron next week to meet with community members and city leaders, Gippin said. The board also plans to host a community discussion, in which Finnell will take questions from the audience.

That townhall will be held Feb. 14 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Ellet Community Learning Center.

Updated: February 7, 2024 at 6:23 PM EST
This story has been updated with information about the board's passage of its rules.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.