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Akron officially names Brian Harding as new police chief

Acting Police Chief Brian Harding (left) addresses a question during a community forum hosted by Mayor Shammas Malik (right) April 23, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Acting Police Chief Brian Harding (left) addresses a question during a community forum hosted by Mayor Shammas Malik (right) April 23, 2024.

Akron's acting police chief Brian Harding is officially the city's new chief of police.

Harding has been serving as the acting chief since the former chief Steve Mylett retired on Dec. 31, 2023.

Harding will help the department focus on community policing and rebuilding trust, said Akron Mayor Shammas Malik, in a Friday news release.

“I believe Chief Harding’s experience, work ethic, integrity, and heart for public service make him the right person to lead the Akron Police Department,” Malik said in the release. “He will be a key partner in implementing our administration’s vision for public safety, including strengthening APD’s efforts to combat violence, building trust and accountability, refocusing on community policing, and prioritizing recruitment and retention of a strong, effective, and diverse workforce.”

Harding has worked for the police department for almost 30 years and was promoted to deputy chief in 2021, according to the release.

“I am honored to serve the Akron community, and the officers and civilian staff of the Akron Police Department as the next Chief of Police," Harding said in the release. "This is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I plan to work closely with our team and our community as we take strides together to create the city we all want.”

Harding was announced as the final candidate in the search in April.

Some Akron residents and community leaders criticized the police chief search due to its lack of diverse candidates. Malik decided to conduct an internal-only search, citing a state law that he believes prohibits him from selecting external candidates.

The Summit County Black Elected Officials sent a letter to Malik asking him to pause the search until a charter amendment could be passed that explicitly gave the mayor the authority to consider external candidates.

"The fact that neither the Chief or Deputy Chief searches will be paused to allow diverse officers to be considered for leadership at the highest levels is troubling and unsettling,” Summit County Clerk of Courts Tavia Galonski wrote in the letter.

The Ohio Revised Code Section 124.44 states: "No positions above the rank of patrol officer in the police department shall be filled by original appointment. Vacancies in positions above the rank of patrol officer in a police department shall be filled by promotion from among persons holding positions in a rank lower than the position to be filled."

Citing this statute, Malik also said he could not consider a candidate who held a less senior position if both deputy chiefs, the two highest-ranking officers in the department, applied.

Harding and Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser, who are both white, applied.

Although the city initially announced Harding and Leeser as the two finalists, Malik named Harding the sole final candidate after conducting interviews. Malik did not “feel comfortable” with Leeser because Leeser expressed “hesitation” about the public engagement responsibilities of the job, Malik said.

Harding’s appointment comes amid concerns of racism and distrust in the Akron Police Department. Anofficer who shot a Black teenager in April was recently fired after several of his use-of-force incidents were ruled “not objectively reasonable.”

Harding plans to address distrust through community engagement, he said at an April community forum.

“How can we do more — make training very purposeful about community engagement, customer service?” Harding said. “I think it's continuing to share that message internally with our officers and continually training to those issues, making them aware of what the community wants and making sure they're crystal clear.”

In the coming weeks, Harding and Malik plan to share “next steps” in the implementation of the mayor’s public safety priorities, according to the news release.

Malik will officially swear Harding in the week of May 27.

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