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Akron Police use-of-force incidents are up 57%. The city's police auditor wants to analyze why

Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Police Department cruisers are seen in Downtown Akron.

The Akron Police Department has reported more use-of-force incidents so far this year than it did at this time last year.

The department had 129 use-of-force incidents reported through May, compared to 82 for the same period in 2023 – a 57% jump, according to the department’s online dashboard.

Calling it a “significant” increase, the city’s police auditor Anthony Finnell said the spike raises questions.

“I'm not necessarily alarmed, but by seeing the rise, it does put it on my radar to monitor it closely to answer those questions,” Finnell said.

There could be several factors behind the increase, Finnell said. One possibility, for example, is that officers could be responding to more calls where using force is more likely, such as breaking up fights or domestic violence incidents, he said.

“There could be a whole host of reasons why — none of which indicate officer misconduct,” Finnell said. “It could be training; it could be that all or many of these are legitimate uses of force and, for one reason or another, during this time period, citizens have chosen to resist or fight the police more.”

The department’s dashboard notes that there is a use of force roughly once every 444 calls. Calls are up 6% compared to this time last year, according to the data. Through May 2024, police have responded to 57,265 calls, compared to 53,858 through May of 2023.

Uses of force are “largely dependent upon the actions of the person being arrested,” department spokesperson Capt. Michael Miller said.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a specific reason why [incidents are up] because there are a lot of different variables,” Miller said. “I would say that officers respond to someone's level of resistance, thus classifying or making it a use of force.”

Miller added that use-of-force incidents go through multiple reviews, including by police supervisors and the internal affairs unit, to see if proper procedures were followed.

Additionally, if an officer meets a certain threshold of use-of-force incidents in given year, the department initiates a review, Miller said.

The next step, Finell said for him, is to drill down into the data and look for trends.

“Until we're able to really look at each incident and gather the data behind the incident, it's really hard to determine if this necessarily is an issue related to misconduct or training, or is it a communication issue, or is it some kind of other community relation issue?” Finnell said.

Finnell is working on compiling a database that will help him look at each individual case and see if there are any patterns.

If there is a pattern of police misconduct that indicates a policy change is needed, Finnell will make a recommendation to the department, he added.

He could also work alongside other community partners if external factors seem to be driving the increase.

Akron's new police auditor Anthony Finnell (right) speaks during a Citizens' Police Oversight Board meeting on April 3, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron's new police auditor Anthony Finnell (right) speaks during a Citizens' Police Oversight Board meeting on April 3, 2024.

For example, if there was a spike in use-of-force incidents because of officers responding to fights in schools, then Finnell would work with the police department and other key stakeholders to try to find solutions, he said.

“If we're seeing that, then we bring in the public schools in this conversation, we bring in other community groups in this conversation, and we identify what the real issue is,” Finnell said. “It may be that the police were called in where other factors could have been in play before that that would have removed the need for police to even be there in that situation. So, then if we remove that, then the number of uses of force go down.”

As the city’s independent police auditor, Finnell is tasked with reviewing use-of-force investigations and complaints after the police department’s Office of Professional Standards and Accountability completes its investigation.

Finnell began the position three months ago. Since then, he’s completed 19 reviews and is in the process of reviewing 11 cases, he said.

He’s issued three official reports, which were approved by the city’s Citizen Police Oversight Board and subsequently submitted to Police Chief Brian Harding for review.

In two of those reports, he disagreed with the internal affairs unit’s conclusion and found the uses of force to be not objectively reasonable. He has also suggested an investigation into police supervisors who had signed off on a use-of-force incident that he and the internal affairs unit both agreed was not objectively reasonable.

Updated: June 26, 2024 at 6:20 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include comments from an Akron Police Department spokesman. This story also originally indicated that the number of the use of force incidents for 2023 were for the entire year, based on information provided by the department. The department spokesman subsequently clarified the 2023 number was only for the first five months of the year.
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Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.