Could Akron vote in November on a civilian review board of its police? Groups may start petition

At a Black Lives Matter march in Akron in June 2020, activist and co-organizer Prophecy Dorsey tried to invite Akron Police officers to take a knee in solidarity.
At a Black Lives Matter march in Akron in June 2020, activist and co-organizer Prophecy Dorsey tried to invite Akron Police officers to take a knee in solidarity. Some city leaders and residents are hoping to improve relations between police and citizens through an independent civilian review board. [Kabir Bhatia / WKSU]
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A civilian review board that would monitor complaints against Akron police could go before voters this November.

Community organizations are planning to launch a petition to put the measure on the ballot, Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik told Ideastream Public Media.

“There have been a lot of conversations around that," Malik said. "I don’t want to get ahead of any one group that’s working on this, but that, I think, is where a lot of the energy is at this point in time."

There are two ways the review board can be created: through legislation passed by the 13-member city council or a charter amendment approved by voters.

Malik is advocating for the latter.

“It creates a stronger, more independent framework if it is rooted in the city’s charter, really, the city’s constitution,” he said. “From a legitimacy standpoint, it’s important that more than 13 people vote on this … I think it’s important that we have the public have an opportunity to weigh in.”

Citizens would need to collect about 2,700 signatures by mid-September to get the initiative on the ballot for the November general election, he said.

Alternatively, city council could vote on the ballot initiative, but Malik doesn’t think it has enough support from council members yet. It would have to approved by at least nine members to pass, he said.

“I think there is trepidation around doing something within the next month,” Malik said. “In my mind, we have talked about this for years, and we’re not talking about nailing down every last detail. We’re talking about the broad strokes that I think there’s broad consensus around.”

Additional logistics of the board could be ironed out once the initiative is approved by voters, he added. For now, council would need to decide on the overall structure of the board, including the number of people on the board, how they will be appointed and how it will be funded.

In a recent presentation to council’s Reimagining Public Safety Committee, Mayor Dan Horrigan’s strategic advisor Emily Collins said a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and council president appears to be a favorable structure.

Collins and other staff members have been reviewing citizen review boards in other cities to determine what might be a good fit for Akron since 2020, Collins said.

However, during public comment periods at recent city council meetings, residents have spoken out against having the mayor and council president appoint the members.

Malik supports the mayor and council having input but said an open application process could also be included. He said he's heard from his constituents that members of law enforcement should also be included on the board.

While he has heard differing perspectives from citizens, he thinks the board would be approved by voters if it ends up on the ballot, he added.

“I think we can all agree that we need to find ways to improve our system of policing, and improve trust between communities of color and law enforcement. I think we can all be honest with ourselves that there is a trust gap,” Malik said. “We can not solely be reactive and wait for crises and then try to kind of scramble and fix things and wonder how we ended up in this situation.”

Other local leaders are also supportive of the ballot initiative.

A group of local Black leaders — the Black Elected Officials of Summit County (BEOSC) — voted over the weekend to support moving forward with a ballot initiative to amend the city charter.

“These guidelines would promote de-escalation as a priority. A ballot initiative would facilitate a public discussion for citizens to engage on its merits,” officials said in a Monday news release. “The BEOSC also believes a productive open discussion will guide us to take proactive action to help the city of Akron heal.”

The BEOSC added it will continue to work with those who are interested to develop a strategy to make sure the initiative is put on the ballot soon.

Council does not meet during the month of August. If enough signatures are collected for the petition, council will have to conduct a special meeting this month to put the review board on the ballot.

Copyright 2022 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

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