Akron police oversight board hits roadblock as city council blocks its investigatory power
Akron’s Citizens’ Police Oversight Board spent months writing its official rules and debating how to interpret the power it was given in the city’s charter. It took one day to be thrown back to square one.
City council voted down the board’s proposed rules by a vote of 9 to 4 during its meeting Monday night.
Council members Donnie Kammer, Brad McKitrick and Jeff Fusco took issue with the board stating it has the power to investigate police misconduct complaints at the same time as the Akron Police Department's Office of Professional Standards and Accountability.
Council’s public safety committee voted 3 to 2 to issue an adverse report, essentially advising the full council to vote against the resolution.
“I don’t feel comfortable taking time on this. I would prefer you folks to continue to work together and come to us with something you agree on,” safety committee chair Donnie Kammer said. “Taking time and putting it in our lap, I don’t think it’s fair.”
Representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, Akron’s police union, also spoke at the safety committee meeting and called on council to vote against the rules.
The CPOB had been warned previously by both the union representatives and city attorneys that conducting parallel investigations could conflict with the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the union, which states only the OPSA can investigate complaints.
The board’s investigatory power would violate the agreement and would lead them to take legal action, said labor attorney Susannah Muskowitz.
Parallel investigations could also jeopardize the case if people are saying different things to the police investigators and the police auditor, Muskovitz added.
“[It] does not make any sense, and it’s actually bad practice,” Muskovitz said.
This caused concern for several council members, including Brad McKitrick, a retired firefighter who worked on fire investigations during his career.
“To jeopardize an investigation, to give a parallel investigation, where there could be conflicting statements from the same person to two different entities, which creates doubts and could ruin that case - I can’t support that,” McKitrick said.
Members of the CPOB counter that parallel investigations would provide truly independent oversight.
That’s the main reason more than 30,000 Akronites approved the charter amendment that created the board in 2022, Chair Kemp Boyd said.
“We believe that in best practice, us asserting ourselves with such powers is very important for us to be an effective board,” Boyd said.
The board spent weeks over the summer internally debating whether the city’s charter gave it broad or more limited investigative powers.
Ultimately, they felt they could be a more effective and independent board if they could conduct parallel investigations, Bob Gippin, chair of the board’s governance committee, told Ideastream Public Media after the rules were approved in July.
"It may be that our investigation, I can see where it might be more comprehensive. It might be more accurate," Gippin said. "Particularly, in terms of talking to people who either are the affected person or who are in support of the affected person, [they] may be much more willing to speak with our staff than with the police department."
While McKitrick, Kammer and Councilmember Phil Lombardo voted to issue an adverse report, other committee members Shammas Malik and Tara Mosley wanted to take time to read the full rules and get a legal opinion from the city’s law department.
The CPOB will now have to rewrite its rules and put a revised version before city council.