Moving forward with necessary changes at the Akron Police Department continues, unfortunately, to be a battle for the city administration. As Mayor Don Plusquellic and Chief James Nice strive to implement proven strategies such as community policing, they must not only fight entrenched attitudes but also navigate the intricacies of the city charter and the language of the police union contract.
The latest flareup involves the mayor’s appointment of Charles Brown, who recently resigned as a police lieutenant to take the newly created job of assistant to the mayor, assistant chief of police. Six of the force’s nine captains have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to oust Brown, arguing that he is unlawfully filling the job of a deputy chief, a position to which captains are eligible to be promoted.
Before creating the job Brown occupies, the mayor did offer a plan to promote two captains to deputy chief, filling two of three vacancies at that level. Why not fill all three? The city charter says that would mean a vacancy in the police chief’s job must be filled from within the department. And that would hamstring the mayor in following his own instinct and the advice of the Police Executive Research Forum, whose analysis recommended bringing in new leadership, both a chief and an assistant to the chief, from the outside.
When objections surfaced to his initial plan, the mayor understandably pursued a different route, appointing Brown, following charter language that allows for assistants to the mayor and sets civilian control of the department.
The mayor’s plan for the deputy chiefs specified they would serve at the pleasure of the police chief, with the understanding they could return to their jobs as captains if the new post didn’t work out. The captains and the union found fault, the union wanting to negotiate contract language to cover the move, though the mayor had gained approval from the Civil Service Commission.
The principle of civilian control is nothing new. So is the right of the mayor to hire assistants (in this case, from within). The captains balked at promotions. Now, the mayor has chosen another route, within his powers, to meet the goal of improving the department through modern practices that will make the city safer.