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Akron police oversight board moves forward on requesting power to investigate

Member's of Akron's Citizens' Police Oversight Board listen as board member Tristan Reed makes a comment during a meeting on Nov. 15, 2023.
City of Akron
Member's of Akron's Citizens' Police Oversight Board listen as board member Tristan Reed makes a comment during a meeting on Nov. 15, 2023.

Akron’s Citizens’ Police Oversight Board is moving forward with its original rules that give it the power to investigate complaints of police misconduct.

The rules must be approved by Akron City Council before they can be implemented. The board voted unanimously Wednesday to ask the city’s law deFpartment to prepare legislation to put the rules before city council for a vote.

Board members will make their case to councilmembers in the coming weeks, board chair Kemp Boyd said during Wednesday's meeting.

“I do want to put a little bit of pressure back on city council and our mayor’s office to say ‘Hey, this is what we need, this is what we believe we should have, in order to be effective as a board,” Boyd said.

It’s been a months-long process to get to this point.

The board approved these rules back in July but delayed sending them to council after several members had second thoughts.

One of their main concerns is whether they should be able to investigate complaints at the same time as the police department’s internal affairs unit. They’ve been warned that Akron’s police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, might sue them if they decide to conduct their own investigations.

That’s because the police union's contract states that only Akron Police Department's Office of Professional Standards and Accountability can investigate use of force complaints.

In a previous meeting, vice chair Donzella Anuszkiewicz emphasized staying on good terms with the FOP.

"It's better for us to try to get along with everyone rather than always fighting each other," Anuszkiewicz said. "We're always going to be fighting with the FOP if we keep advocating for parallel investigations."

Anuszkiewicz and board member Tristan Reed, who also had reservations about conducting parallel investigations, instead want the investigatory power to be included in the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the police union when it is renegotiated.

Board member Brandyn Costa had previously proposed a compromise: sending the rules to city council with the broad investigatory power, but waiting to conduct investigations until after the agreement is negotiated.

However, Costa and other board members changed their minds after hearing from citizens during committee meetings.

The charter amendment that voters approved to create the boardalready includes these broad investigative powers, Costa said.

“30,475 citizens came out … to declare that they wanted this board to have effective oversight power. Oversight power, not review power,” Costa said.

Reed and Anuszkiewicz both ultimately voted to send the rules to council. Though Reed said she still wasn’t “comfortable” with the decision, hearing from citizens influenced her affirmative vote.

Costa and Boyd agreed that they’d like a seat at the table during the collective bargaining agreement renegotiations, even though the board is already taking the position that they have the power to investigate.

Board members Caitlin Castle, Bob Gippin and Shawn Peoples were not present for the vote but had communicated with the other board members that they were in favor of moving forward with the rules.

The law department will now draft legislation to put the rules before city council. If city council does not approve them, the board will have to rewrite the provision to state the board will await the conclusion of any department investigation before it conducts its own.

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