Akron discussing proposal to send trained civilian teams to low-priority calls instead of police

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AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Akron City Council is discussing a proposal that would free up police officers for the most serious of calls by creating teams of specially trained civilians to respond to those that are a lower priority.

Council is consulting with representatives of the Law Enforcement Action Network to determine if the proposal is right for the city.

“With over a quarter of a million calls, if we can take 5% or 10% of those calls and reduce the officer time that’s needed for those calls or reduce that an officer is needed entirely for that call, that frees up those officers to work on gun violence, to work on the other community priorities involving policing,” said Councilman Shammas Makil before a special meeting to introduce the idea.

The consultants include retired Miamisburg Ohio Assistant Police Chief Tom Thompson who says most of the 800,000 peace officers in the United States have experienced first-hand encounters with a person suffering from a mental health disorder that ended up in use of force by not sending an appropriate responder.

The city of Akron is already approaching 40 murders for 2021, already more than the number for the entire year before. Fraternal Order of Police President Clay Cozart says the police department has already taken measures to try and free up officers from nuisance calls.

“A few years back, we stopped responding to alarm calls until they are substantiated that someone actually has entered someone’s home because we had a 97-percent false alarm rate,” said Cozart.

“There are many calls related to homelessness, there are many low-level disputes, I can’t get my kid to get up and go to school, there’s a noise complaint related to a neighbor next door, a landlord tenant dispute,” said Amos Irwin of the Law Enforcement Action Network. “You have these two trained full-time civilians who are on a team who show up to the scene and try to resolve that situation and, you know, try to refer those people to services so you’re not just putting a band aid on the situation but you are dealing with it long term.”

Thompson says there are times when the low priority calls escalate because a uniformed, armed police officer responds.

“That ended in use of force up to and including serious physical harm or criminal charges that could have been avoided by sending an appropriate responder,” said Thompson.

But Cozart says he has seen the opposite.

“Many of these social workers have been assaulted on calls when police officers aren’t there and so the calls they were going to they thought they didn’t need police and then in fact they did need the police,” said Cozart.

Councilwoman Linda Omobien, who has worked as a counselor, says she is also concerned about the repercussions of just one bad outcome.

“Before I worked in mental health, I worked in child welfare, so I have gone into homes to remove children but in those cases I always had an officer with me,” said Omobien during a council zoom meeting. “My only concern is that it only takes one major situation to occur where there’s a problem and then you know we do hindsight.”

Cozart says he welcomes any effort that would help free up officers to concentrate on the highest of priorities, but he worries that this proposal might end up becoming a back door effort to defund the police if the money is taken out of the police department’s budget.

For now it is simply in a discussion phase.

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