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Akron names Acting Police Chief Brian Harding finalist in police chief search

Akron Police Acting Chief Brian Harding stands for a headshot.
City of Akron
Brian Harding has been acting chief of the Akron Police Department since January 2023 after the previous chief, Steve Mylett, stepped down.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik announced Wednesday that Acting Chief Brian Harding is the finalist for the open role of police chief, according to a press release from the city.

The city had announced two finalists for the position in April: Harding and Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser.

Former Chief Steve Mylett announced his retirement last September, after two years with the Akron Police Department. The city originally launched a nationwide search for his replacement, but in March, Malik announced the city's law department and outside counsel deemed that state and city law prevented him from hiring an external candidate. Malik plans to place a charter amendment on the November ballot to allow the city to hire an external candidate in the future.

The decision to only hire internally has drawn criticism from Black elected leaders in Summit County. A group called on Malik in March to pause the police chief search until the charter amendment could be passed in November. When Malik shared the city would continue with the internal search, Black Elected Officials of Summit County released a second letter saying they are displeased with the decision.

Malik defended his decision to hire internally at his first state of the city address, saying the city needs a permanent chief to undertake systemic change.

Harding earned a bachelor's degree in technical education and an associate degree in criminal justice from the University of Akron, according to the press release. He has 28 years of experience in law enforcement and has been with the Akron Police Department since 1995. He was promoted to Deputy Chief in November of 2021. He's served as Acting Chief since January.

The city is hosting two townhalls for the community to meet Harding and ask him questions on April 20 from 10:00 to 11:30 am at John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center and April 23 from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at East Community Learning Center.

“As a candidate for this important role and in his current role as Acting Chief, he [Harding] has welcomed opportunities to meet with the community throughout this process," Malik said in a statement. "I believe this reflects his willingness to support more community-oriented policing here in Akron and demonstrates his commitment to Akron's residents."

In a statement, Akron's Director of Communications Stephanie Marsh clarified that the city's plan originally was to host both final candidates, Harding and Leeser, at the townhalls, but after initial interviews, the city felt confident moving forward with Harding as the final candidate.

"The process is not over," she added, "and a job offer has not been made."

Ralph Anderson and Associates, a public sector executive job search firm, conducted initial screening interviews with all internal candidates and reviewed and recommended candidates to Malik.

Malik, Chief of Staff Brittany Grimes Zaehringer, Chief of Strategy Nanette Pitt, Director of Human Resources Montrella Jackson and advisory group members conducted first round finalist interviews. Malik and the advisory team chose Harding as the finalist.

Updated: April 18, 2024 at 1:15 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a comment from the mayor's office.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.