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Akron to hold townhall forum Saturday with police chief candidate Brian Harding

Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron. The city will hold two townhall meetings to give people a chance to share their thoughts on Brian Harding, the finalist to be the next chief of police.

Akron residents get a chance Saturday to weigh in on the city’s final candidate in its search for a new police chief.

The city’s Acting Chief Brian Harding will introduce himself and take questions from residents in a townhall forum with Mayor Shammas Malik at 10 a.m. at Buchtel Community Learning Center.

The forum was initially scheduled to present the two internal candidates for the job: Harding and deputy chief Jesse Leeser. A city spokesperson said after conducting interviews, Malik and his team felt Harding was the best candidate.

“While many residents are familiar with Deputy Chief Harding from his years of service to our city, I am looking forward to the town halls which will provide our community with the opportunity to engage with him as the finalist for the Police Chief role,” Malik said in a news release. “As a candidate for this important role and in his current role as Acting Chief, he has welcomed opportunities to meet with the community throughout this process. I believe this reflects his willingness to support more community-oriented policing here in Akron and demonstrates his commitment to Akron's residents.”

Harding has served in the department for almost 30 years. He was promoted to deputy chief, the most senior role in the department behind chief, in 2021, according to the release. He graduated from the University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in technical education and with an associate degree in criminal justice, the release states. He has been married to his wife Michelle for 28 years and they have two children.

Some residents have criticized the search for its lack of diversity. Both Harding and Leeser are white.

According to the mayor, current city law prohibits him from considering external candidates, and he could not consider a less senior position since both deputy chiefs applied.

APD 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 Summit County Black Elected Officials wrote to Malik. "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."

Malik plans to seek a charter amendment in November that would change city law to allow for external hires.

Harding will talk to the community at a second townhall on Tuesday, April 23 at 6 p.m. at East Community Learning Center.

After that, Malik will make a final decision, city spokesperson Stephanie Marsh told Ideastream Public Media.

“The process is not over, and a job offer has not been made. The purpose of the forums (and several other stakeholder meetings) is for folks to have an opportunity to hear from and ask questions of the candidate and offer their feedback,” Marsh said.

Akron's previous police chief Steve Mylett resigned last year. Harding has served as interim chief since Jan. 1.

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