In this election year, Akron sits at an intersection.
In the rearview mirror, rising rates of murder, sexual assault, arson and violent crime are punctuated by gunfire, even as the opioid crisis subsides.
Voters can choose the best road to safety, starting with the May 7 Democratic primary.
Straight ahead is four more years with Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, a former teacher, city councilman and Summit County Clerk of Courts. In seeking a second term, Horrigan is running on his first three years in office, touting more local funding for police while attacking “root causes of crime” — poverty and lack of opportunity.
Voters, however, could choose a different direction.
On the Democratic ballot next month is the Rev. Gregory Harrison of Antioch Baptist Church. The retired police officer, who lost a godson five years ago to gun violence and resigned in frustration from the mayor’s recreation board last fall, said he would rely on education and youth programming to put youth on more promising paths.
Or in the November general election, voters could turn from four decades of Democratic mayors and elect Republican Josh Sines, a former Summit County Common Pleas Court bailiff who recalls defendants routinely having little or no high school education before being sentenced for violent crimes.
The Beacon Journal/Ohio.com questioned each candidate about their plans to create a safer community. Their emailed responses depict three men who say crime is a complex problem that takes the entire community and, perhaps, years to get under control.
“Systemic, generational challenges are not overcome overnight,” Horrigan said. “When elected officials, neighborhood leaders, faith leaders, educators and residents can work together and not for themselves, true progress is made. These are community-wide challenges that require community-wide solutions.”
“I suggest violent crime in Akron — and elsewhere — is the result of a complex deterioration of the fabrics of society,” Sines said. “We are not investing in our children. We need to raise children who understand the difference between right and wrong, so they grow up to be adults who understand that shooting another human being is wrong.”
“There is no quick fix for violence reduction. The answer requires a long-term plan,” Harrison said, estimating that even his strategy of “true community partnerships” to support youth could take up to seven years to have measurable impact. “While implementing the plan there may be a spike in violence; however, we should not disregard any long-term plan, seeking a quick fix. There is no quick fix.”
‘Public health issue’
Last year under Horrigan, 811 guns were taken off the streets. He reopened the city's police academy and agreed to pay cadets to boost diversity. A 0.25 percent income tax he campaigned for in 2017 has, so far, purchased $5 million in new police equipment and kept staffing levels from falling for uniformed officers.
The mayor also detailed a broader anti-violence strategy through opportunity, citing “1,000 new jobs at the former Rolling Acres site, hiring a Health Equity Ambassador to combat racial inequities, providing summer meals and reading programs for youth, partnering with the United Way to offer free financial counseling services, working to grow our population and tax base with new housing, collaborating with Akron Public Schools on college and career academies, reinvesting in our neighborhood business districts, offering Midnight Basketball and renovating our pools, or helping to finally bring a community college to Akron.”
Horrigan’s challengers, however, criticized his or former administrations for a lack of urgency on the violence gripping some Akron neighborhoods.
Sines said city leaders have downplayed this “public health issue” for nearly a decade.
“From the Kimlyn Circle executions to the horrific events of last weekend (when two men where killed in separate shootings), Akron has succeeded only in prosecuting crime after the fact,” said Sines. “We have lost sight of taking care of our people, we are only looking at treating violent crime as a symptom — not as an underlying public health issue that could be treated with preventative medicine.
“But we can’t lay a complex problem like violent crime solely at the feet of the education system. Nor can we suggest our brave men and women in uniform, who don the blue and badge day in and day out, have somehow lapsed in their service to our town.”
With many violent crimes up in the past three years, even as the population has continued to decline, Harrison went after Horrigan.
“The city of Akron is out of touch with the reality of the epidemic of violence that is occurring in our neighborhoods,” he said. “The city of Akron has not dedicated the appropriate resources to address violence. This epidemic requires the community and the city of Akron working together to address this epidemic with a multi-phase approached.”
Harrison suggested applying an eagerness to combat crime that’s equal to the attention the city gives developers of business and entertainment districts.
All three men put emphasis on a community-wide approach to better education.
Harrison would reach children as young as 6 with more robust recreational programming while pushing for community learning centers built with a city income tax to be open year-round with no barriers, including cost, for community groups and nonprofit organizations that engage youth.
“Education or the lack of education is a huge factor relating to the potential for violence,” said Harrison. “It’s not by chance that areas experiencing the highest incidents of violence are the same areas where failing schools’ clusters are located. Our children cannot read and until we acknowledge and address this issue, we will continue to experience violence if we can’t improve the literacy abilities of our children.”
Sines would ask the city to emulate LeBron James, who he called “Akron’s greatest crime fighter.”
Arguing that government can’t solve all problems, Sines applauded the public-private partnerships behind I Promise School in an effort to educate the child, support the whole family and reduce “crime for the next generation as well as providing better lives for kids who need it the most.”
“I’m not a sociologist,” Sines said. “In fact, I cook hamburgers and pour drinks. But, I know enough to recognize the root causes of a problem when I see them. We have a chance, to follow LeBron’s lead, to raise our children, to raise citizens. Win, lose or draw in this race, I challenge Akron to do so.”
At least seven people have been shot dead in Akron, two more than at this time last year. Children and adults have been injured by stray bullets while driving or standing in living rooms.
And historical trends predict gunfire will only increase as the weather warms.
“We could emphasize ‘hotspot’ policing to target areas that crime disproportionately affects,” said Sines. “We could consider de-emphasizing policing of certain crimes over others, and perhaps we should.”
Or the mayor could use his “soapbox,” which Sines said he would stand on, if elected, to tell residents to read to their children. “The holistic issues that lead to violent crime — low education, drug abuse, mental illness — are far more prevalent in children with strained family relationships and children who are not reading at their grade-level equivalent. These children are dramatically more likely to drop out, get hooked on drugs and end up on either side of a gun.”
Kids need conflict management skills learned on playgrounds, Harrison said. “Those same critical thinking and problem-solving skills are transferred into adulthood.
“Guns are a problem in our society,” he continued. “However, apathy toward this (violence) problem not gun control brings us to the place where we are today.”
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.