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Akron officials will introduce police oversight board next week

Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The Akron Police Department is headquartered in the Stubbs Justice Center in downtown Akron.

Akron voters overwhelmingly approved a citizen police oversight board last November. Now, they’re less than a week away from finding out who the first candidates for that board will be.  

The city received 112 applications for the nine-member board. A team of mayor’s office staff and city councilmembers have selected at least 20 applicants to interview thus far, said Emily Collins, strategic adviser to Mayor Dan Horrigan.  

“It's really neat to see how, you know, how rich our population really is, in terms of skillsets and interest and desire to better Akron. It's really been a treat to experience some of the candidates’ statements and then speak to them directly,” Collins said.  

Final decisions will be made this week, and they’re set to announce their picks at the next city council meeting on Feb. 6, she said.  

It’s been a bit of a time crunch due to the language of the charter amendment, which was approved by voters in November, she said. The charter states the board must be implemented 90 days after the election results were certified.  

That makes the deadline Feb. 27, Collins said.  

“There’s no question that it's putting pressure on all of us to think through appointments and, you know, schedule things and displace other things that would otherwise be on the schedule. But we don't think that we are compromising the integrity of the process by doing so,” Collins said.  

The applicants work in a wide range of fields, from mental health services, to clergy members, to law enforcement, and come from all 10 wards, she said. Many of them have expressed a common goal: improving the relationship between Akron Police and the community, she said.  

“We have been reaching out to as many organizations as possible who work with economically disadvantaged and underserved communities in Akron to try to get them to speak to their own employees and others to send applications. And I think it's been successful because we got a full range of applicants,” Collins said.  

Applicants could indicate their backgrounds on the application. Fifteen said they had a background in law enforcement; 11 were attorneys; 28 had a professional background in mental health, and 27 were affiliated with an organization representing economically disadvantaged or under-served communities in Akron, according to a mayor's office spokesperson.

Board members are not required to have a background in any of these fields, according to the charter.

Calls for a civilian oversight board were reignited in Akron last year after police fatally shot Jayland Walker, a Black man who was unarmed at the time of his death. The county medical examiner’s report showed Walker was wounded or grazed 46 times.  

Community organizers gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to put the charter amendment on the ballot. City council passed a different version of a review board proposed by Mayor Dan Horrigan, but that was superseded by the charter amendment when voters approved it by a 2 to 1 margin.  

The charter amendment states the mayor is in charge of appointing three members, with city council’s consent, while city council selects the remaining six.  

The committee of councilmembers involved in the appointment process is made up of Ward 7 Councilman Donnie Kammer, chair of council’s public safety committee; Ward 6 Councilman Brad McKitrick, a retired firefighter; At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien, chair of the health and human services committee, and Ward 3 Councilwoman Margo Sommerville, president of council.

On Monday, the team will present their appointments to the full council, which will have three weeks to discuss and eventually take a vote. According to the charter, the mayor’s picks need just a simple majority of 7 votes for approval, while council’s picks require a supermajority of 9 votes.  

Once the board is seated, they will have to immediately get to work on establishing rules and procedures of the board, Collins added. The team has been trying to get a sense of candidates’ time commitments through the interview process.  

They’re also asking candidates about their experiences in management and budgeting, as the board has the power to hire and fire staff of the police auditor’s office, which handles investigations.  

We’re asking them about their background in those things and how willing they are to commit to the time necessary for this very much working board to complete its work,” Collins said.

Updated: February 1, 2023 at 12:20 PM EST
This story has been updated to include a breakdown of the backgrounds of the applicants.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.