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Akron Mayor Shammas Malik considers $400,000 voluntary buyout for remaining deputy chief

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik and Police Chief Brian Harding introduce legislation to city council that would offer a voluntary buyout to Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser.
City of Akron
Akron Mayor Shammas Malik and Police Chief Brian Harding introduce legislation to City Council on May 20, 2024, that would offer a voluntary buyout to Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik is proposing a voluntary buyout offer for the remaining deputy chief in the police department.

The mayor submitted legislation to City Council Monday that would offer Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser a $400,000 voluntary separation agreement.

The goal is to allow for other officers to be promoted and help new police Chief Brian Harding with his overall vision for the department, Malik said.

“As we start off on a new moment with a new chief, that that person has the opportunity to build a team around them that they decide upon and that they believe will best help them advance their mission and strengthen this department,” Malik said during Council’s budget and finance committee meeting.

On Friday, the city named Harding, who served as a deputy chief since 2021, as its new police chief.

Leeser, a 29-year veteran of the department, had also applied for the job.

Malik only considered the two deputy chiefs for the job, citing a state law that he said only allows for police chiefs to be chosen through promotion. Some residents and city leaders criticized Malik for that decision due to the lack of diverse internal candidates.

The buyout is the first step in an ongoing process to prioritize more community policing, Harding said.

If Leeser accepts the voluntary agreement, the mayor and the chief plan to promote three officers to deputy chief in the coming weeks, Malik said.

Several council members had questions about the legislation and voiced some concerns about the cost.

The buyout could set “a dangerous precedent,” At-Large Councilmember Linda Omobien said.

“The chief has the authority, now that he has the job, to reassign people that may not agree with the direction he's gone or with the philosophy of the organization,” Omobien said.

At-Large Councilmember Jeff Fusco asked to see more information on how the $400,000 number was calculated.

It was based on the “significant pension income that officers forfeit to retire early,” according to a city press release.

Fusco and Councilmember Tina Boyes also asked to see more information about other departments in the state that have done similar buyout programs.

Columbus has a similar program, Malik added.

Councilmember Sharon Connor questioned why the buyout is needed if city officials have previously mentioned needing more police.

"If we've been short staffed for so long and now we're figuring out how to buy people out, I think that sends a mixed message to our city, our residents,” Connor said. “$400,000 is a lot of money."

Malik also plans to introduce a buyout plan for lieutenants and captains as well, which would need approval from the police union and Council, he added.

Council voted to take time to consider the proposal and will vote in the coming weeks.

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