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Akron voters will soon decide on Issue 10, a permanent civilian police oversight board

Judi Hill, president of Akron NAACP
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP, sports an Issue 10 hoodie on October 28, 2022. Issue 10 would create a civilian oversight board of the Akron Police Department.

Akron voters are considering Issue 10, a charter amendment that would create a civilian police oversight board.

While city council already approved a different review boardin September, Issue 10 would supersede this board and be permanently codified in the city’s charter.

The nine-member board proposed in Issue 10 would review police misconduct complaints and give input about how the department can improve. The proposal would also strengthen the role of the city’s police auditor office.

Community members gathered more than 7,000 signatures on a petition this summer to get the review board on the ballot.

It reflects the police reform Akron residents have been wanting to see for years, said Akron NAACP President Judi Hill, who worked on Issue 10.

“This is the power of democracy at its best – that individuals put this on the ballot, that individuals collected signatures, that individuals can vote on it,” Hill said.

Calls for police reform in Akron were reignited this year after eight Akron police officers fatally shot and killed Jayland Walker after a car and foot chase in June. Walker, who was unarmed when he died, was wounded or grazed more than 40 times, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner.

Hill has been in conversations with city leaders about implementing a civilian review board for years, she said.

“I don’t want to talk about promises anymore. I’ve been made promises, and I now am moving toward solution-building, and I see this as a solution for our community,” Hill said.

There are two different plans for a civilian oversight board that would monitor complaints against the Akron Police. One is a charter amendment going before voters in November, and the other is legislation approved by city council.

Who supports and opposes Issue 10?

In addition to Hill, Ray Greene Jr., president of the Freedom BLOC activist group, supports Issue 10.

Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik and At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien have also expressed their support.

It's garnered some opposition from city leaders, including Mayor Dan Horrigan, who called the review board’s structure “problematic.”

The main criticism from Horrigan and others is whether the board will conflict with the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police union.

The specific language in question is that the board can “conduct investigations” and “compel testimony” and “production of documents.”

Investigations currently are handled internally by Akron Police or referred to state or federal officials, like in the Walker case.

“A board that investigates of its own accord and has subpoena power - both of those things lend themselves to investigations that we believe would be outside of the collective bargaining agreement process,” said Emily Collins, strategic advisor to the mayor. “That is a problem.”

The petition states that “oversight shall include … the investigation of alleged misconduct by members of the Division of Police” and says the board and the Office of the Police Auditor could “on its own initiative conduct investigations of the operations and policies of the Division of Police.”

Councilman Malik, who helped craft the charter amendment, said “investigation” is a broad term.

“Investigation could mean – investigate the policies and practices around traffic stops, right?” he said. “I don’t believe that would violate the collective bargaining agreement.”

Malik added that if there is a provision in the charter amendment that indeed conflicts with the collective bargaining agreement, it could not be permitted.

He also said that provisions in the charter amendment state that they are “subject to the restrictions of federal and state law.”

Judi Hill at the Akron NAACP added that the board will be tasked with defining its investigative authority.

“When that committee gets together, that’s one of the first things that they need to define, is what that investigation power looks like for them, what all of this looks like under the guidelines of city contracts, state and federal [laws],” Hill said. “I don’t know why they don’t believe people … that want to be a part of it, would know what to do. I have faith in the individuals that want to.”

Jeff Fusco, Vice President of Akron City Council, has also been a vocal opponent of Issue 10.

Heintroduced a controversial resolution formally expressing opposition to the ballot measure several weeks before the election.

Fusco, like those in the mayor’s office, does not think the board should be able to conduct its own investigations.

“That’s going pretty far, I think, for a civilian oversight board, to be able to do that - to basically subpoena folks in and conduct investigations when they don’t have the adequate training to do that,” Fusco said.

Fusco is also concerned that Issue 10 could be held up in court, which could waste taxpayer dollars.

“This is going to put Akron in harm’s way, our budget in harm’s way,” Fusco said. “We’ve had court litigation that lasted years and years and years, and cost taxpayers hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars could have went to better policing.”

What’s in the charter amendment?

The review board would be made up of nine individuals. Six would be appointed by city council and three by the mayor.

The amendment recommends that at least one member have law enforcement experience, but it’s not required, Hill at the Akron NAACP said.

The proposal encourages members to be from Akron’s faith-based communities, have experience in mental health services and work with underserved populations. It also recommends diversity in age, race and sexual orientation.

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.

The board does not require or recommend any specific training about working 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.”

If Issue 10 fails, city council has already approved a different civilian review board – an 11-member board - that does not mention conducting its own investigations.

That review board was created by an ordinance, so it can be adjusted by future legislation.

The long-term goal of the ordinance was to put a charter amendment before voters in November 2023 to codify it in the city’s charter, Horrigan said in the initial proposal.

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