What are the requirements to be on the Akron civilian police review board?
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Some listeners have asked whether people need a background in law enforcement or the military to be on the civilian police review board in Akron.
Cheryl asked, “How are the people on this going to be fair if they don't know the job of the police officers?”
And Rozanne asked, “Will members of the review board be required to take any classes and training on what it's like being a member of law enforcement and on duty in today's world?”
Let’s start with the ordinance that was proposed by Mayor Dan Horrigan and recently passed by city council. This board would consist of 11 members — six proposed by the mayor with council’s consent and five by council — that would monitor complaints against Akron Police and issue recommendations about potential policy changes.
Emily Collins, strategic adviser to Mayor Horrigan, worked on the ordinance. At least one member of this board is required to have a background in law enforcement, she said.
“We’d like at least one member to have expertise in law enforcement to be on the board. It’s very possible that could be a person who is an attorney, it could be a person who’s a retired officer, it could be a person who’s not from Akron but currently resides here and has a background in law enforcement,” Collins said. “We could have several people who fill that role … but the ordinance itself asks for at least one.”
The ordinance also strongly recommends the board members participate in at least 40 hours of ride-alongs with Akron Police to see an officer’s perspective, Collins added.
The board must have at least one attorney, one person with a background in mental health services and one person with experience in social justice. One person could satisfy multiple requirements, Collins said.
Voters will consider a charter amendment in the November election that would create a review board with a slightly different structure. More than 7,000 people signed a petition to put the charter amendment on the ballot.
This plan would create a 9-member review board with 6 picks from council and 3 from the mayor. If voters approve it, it would be codified in the city’s charter. This board would also monitor complaints but could conduct its own research into the department’s policies.
While the proposal recommends that at least one member have law enforcement experience, it’s not required, said Akron NAACP president Judi Hill, who worked on the plan.
The proposal encourages members to be from Akron’s faith-based communities, have experience in mental health services and work with underserved populations. Having no specific requirements allows for flexibility, Hill added.
“The more constraints that you put in the framework, the harder it is for individuals to apply,” Hill said. “I really don’t believe that with anything we proposed that we want to tie the hands of the administration. We are really trying to hold the hand, to be that extra hand to move the needle so we can create this better place that we all want.”
It is possible that the board would not have someone with a police background due to it not being required, she added. But, she’s confident there will be someone on the board with a law enforcement background.
“There are individuals who would be willing to serve, who have great ideas, who, as a police officer or a law enforcement official, probably because they were under the constraints of a union or whatever, would not bring forth their ideas – but this would give them the opportunity,” Hill said.
Neither of the plans requires board members to take training on what it’s like to work in law enforcement.
Hill added that citizens, not police, should be the priority on this board.
“I don’t want them to be attorneys; I want them to be citizens. I don’t want them to be police; I want them to be citizens who have a vested interest in moving us forward,” Hill said. “If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’re going to always get what we’ve always got. We’ve got to do something different, and I think this provides a good balance.”
For the ordinance already approved, Emily Collins of the mayor’s office added that while they want citizens to be the majority, they felt it was important to require at least one person with knowledge of the police.
“It’s called a citizen board; we want that disconnect. But it's also extremely useful to have someone with a background in law enforcement,” Collins said. “So having at least one member with that background can be informative, but it's also not controlling, of how a board operates.”
Another listener asked whether the boards have requirements for their demographic makeup, such as race and gender diversity.
There are no such requirements in the charter amendment proposal, Hill said, but it recommends diversity in age, race and sexual orientation.
There are no specific race or gender requirements in the ordinance already approved by council, either, added Collins from the mayor’s office.
Other cities that put racial quotas in their review boards were sued, she said.
It will be up to the mayor and city council members to prioritize diversity in their appointments, Collins said.
“We’re also seeking at least one resident from each ward, so making sure that diversity is reflected in, you know, this ward-by-ward choice is probably going to be a little tricky,” she said. “We expect [council members] to take a lot of time thinking through diverse choices, and I know the mayor is very interested in doing the same.”
The charter amendment requires no more than two residents from each ward on the board.
How to apply
Peter asked, “How can an average Joe join the board?”
The city is currently taking applications through October 31st for the review board that was already approved. Individuals can fill out the application on the city’s website or in person at the municipal building downtown, Collins said.
They’ve already received 16 applications at the time of this publication, she added.
Applications also would be required for the review board proposed in the charter amendment, Judi Hill of the NAACP added.
Charter amendments supersede ordinances, so the current review board would have to be modified to fit the charter amendment if it passes in November.