Akron council adopts new law spelling out expectations of police officers

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AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — City council on Monday passed a resolution and a new law both laying out new expectations and requirements of police officers in response to community uproar over abuse of power and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The resolution focusing on support the police department’s ongoing training and adoption of policies in an effort to end police brutality, condemning any policy that allows for the use of choke-holds or force on the neck of a suspect who is being detained as a general practice.

The resolution also asks all law enforcement agencies to adopt policies with respect to racial sensitivity training and the routine use of body worn cameras.

But in a related matter, the council also passed a new law that spells out the city’s expectations of police officers if they witness another officer performing an act they believe is wrong or abusive.

The new law, which passed council by a 13-0 vote, requires an officer to intervene in those cases or face criminal consequences.

“We have been listening to people, we have been hearing what Akron residents had to say, listening to their frustration, and one of the things that we really need to do is to look at our own existing code,” Council President Margo Sommerville told FOX 8 on Tuesday.

“We don’t ever want to be in a situation like some of the situations that have happened,” Sommerville said. “But we wanted to be sure that at least in our code, our codes are clear, duties are spelled out and consequences are in place.”

The same legislation forbids any retaliation against an officer if they intervene.

“So the idea you know is if you see something and you know it is wrong it is mandatory for you to say something,” she added. “No retaliation. We don’t want officers who step up and intervene and report, that do the right thing to have anything to come back on them. So we put in some safeguards for officers who are willing to do the right thing.”

During discussion before passing the new law on Monday council members voiced their appreciation for the city’s police department saying they trust that officers are well trained and most, if not all, are willing to do the right thing.

“The super majority of our police officers they go into this for the right reasons,” said councilman Jeff Fusco. “What this is basically doing is memorializing expectations and in laying it out I was kind of surprised to hear that this wasn’t already spelled out in ordinance form.

“It’s important to know this too,” he continued. “That over the last few years our numbers in terms of use of force has been decreasing and that’s important to note. I know that Chief [Ken] Ball and his team they are not just going to rest and settle. They are going to seek continuous improvement and I think that bodes well for our city.”

Many on council wanted to make sure police officers do not think of the new law as an attack on them.

“I think it’s a good thing because it protects law enforcement as well. They may not think of it as that but it does, it protects them as well,” said councilwoman Ginger Baylor.

“I mean, this makes it perfectly clear that if you see something that you know is wrong that goes against your training and everything that you know to be humane, you need to say something or you are going to be complicit in it,” said councilwoman Linda Omobian.

Sommerville says she is confident that Akron Police Chief Ken Ball and his officers already reject the tactics that are opposed in the new legislation, but it is important for the community to see it in writing and she says this is just the start.

“I want to tell the residents of Akron, those who showed up to protest (as seen in the video below), that we not only saw you there but we heard you and this is a first step,” Sommerville said. “We know that we have a lot more work to do and we are prepared to do so.”

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