Cantonal Community Relations Commission reviews police investigations

TOWNSHIP — The police department’s internal investigation into the civic officer who shot and killed James Williams may eventually end in front of a little-known group of civilians — the mayor’s community relations commission.

The commission, which has been in existence since 2001, has drawn new attention this year as local and national activists have called for increased public scrutiny of police operations. Members of the cantonal commission also say they want the commission’s presence to be better known so that people understand that there are checks and balances.

After Williams’ death on New Year’s Day, Stark County NAACP Chairman Hector McDaniel requested representation on the commission and was nominated by Mayor Thomas Bernabei. Councilman Robert Fisher, D-5, said last month that a new police review board or outreach to the existing board could improve community relations.

Will the commission look into Williams’ case?

Security director Andrea Perry, who oversees the commission, wrote in an email that the group may review Williams’ case once all legal matters and the internal investigation are complete. But use of force cases are not reviewed by the commission “unless there is a determination of misconduct or a citizen complaint about the use of force,” she said. The department has not received a formal complaint about the force used against Williams.

The internal investigation began after the criminal investigation concluded in September. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Williams family is pending.

The separate internal Use of Force Review Board will determine whether Officer Robert Huber, who shot Williams on New Year’s Day as the township resident fired a semi-automatic rifle into the air, followed department policy. The internal review board is made up of at least five members ― the commanding officer, the support services captain, a non-administrative supervisor, a police legal adviser, a peer officer, and the departmental instructor for the type of weapon. or technique used.

Police Chief John Gabbard will receive the board’s report and decide whether disciplinary action is warranted.

After:Inside the investigation: New details, videos emerge in James Williams shooting

What does the Community Relations Commission do?

The purpose of the Community Relations Commission is to “advise the mayor regarding the provision of services by city employees for the purpose of building community confidence, improving the functioning of government, and promoting public understanding of the Canton city government system,” according to the city’s website.

Commission members are appointed by the mayor for a two-year term. They must live, work, or own a business in the city and cannot have a felony conviction or misdemeanor conviction related to offenses against an officer or dishonesty.

Current members are Hubert Fleming, Timothy Miller, Allyson Bussey, Tonja Marshall, Hector McDaniel, Fonda Williams and Laura Mills.

They volunteer their time and meet four times a year to review internal cantonal police investigations resulting from citizen complaints or excessive use of force.

“Commission members can make recommendations, which are then discussed with the police chief for review and consideration,” said Perry, who attends each meeting.

Perry said the officers would have already been disciplined, given the opportunity to file a grievance, or undergone arbitration through their union before the cases reached the commission.

McDaniel and Mills are newer members and have each attended two meetings so far. They said the commission reviews about three cases per meeting and then selects cases from a list provided by the department to review at the next meeting.

McDaniel said they review the circumstances of each case and the history of the officers involved for any patterns in their behavior or past complaints.

“I think there are two things that are important: performance and handling,” he said.

Mills, a Mills, Mills, Fiely & Lucas lawyer who was appointed after submitting her resume for a vacant seat earlier this year, said cases vary in terms of time frame and whether disciplinary action was taken. The commission provides comments on the relevance of the result and whether the right evidence was part of the investigation.

“It’s helpful because it’s an open dialogue,” Mills said. “In my view, it’s not just the cases you’re looking at, but it’s also to prompt thoughts and considerations on how to handle things going forward.”

To date, Mills said, she hasn’t had any objections to how internal investigations have been handled, but thinks it’s important to have the commission there for oversight.

In addition to having greater influence over police policies or procedures, McDaniel said the commission could be improved by publicizing its members and meetings to avoid guesswork and improve transparency.

“I don’t even know how many people know that this commission exists,” he said.

The longest-serving member of the commission is Tim Miller, a real estate agent who was appointed in 2007 by then-mayor Janet Weir Creighton. He said serving on the commission and participating in the Citizens’ Police Academy has been a “real eye-opener” despite growing up in Guangzhou and continuing to be an active member of the community.

“I know our commission, over the years we’ve always recommended going through this (academy),” Miller said. “And it’s just a great opportunity to find out for yourself, to get an inside perspective on police department operations.”

The use of dash cams and later body-worn cameras was the biggest evolution in policing Miller witnessed during his time on the commission. The quality of the videos has improved over the years and, for the most part, they have been able to corroborate the officers’ accounts.

Miller recalls about two instances over the past 15 years where members disagreed with the findings of an internal investigation and lacked discipline. They asked city officials to reassess the cases, which resulted in additional discipline in at least one case.

“A majority of the time you’re okay with what you see,” he said. “The most important thing that comes out I think is what is the ongoing training for this and seeing that this won’t happen again.”

Like McDaniel, Miller said the commission was looking for multiple complaints against officers and had seen some of those officers fired, resign or retire. He also thinks that more communication about the board and its findings would benefit the public and member retention, which has been a challenge in the past.

The next commission meeting will be December 14 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 218 Cleveland Ave. SW. It’s open to the public.

How does the Canton commission compare to other police oversight commissions?

Akron is creating a civilian police oversight board after the fatal shooting of Jayland Walker by police this summer rekindled calls for police reform, and Cleveland has a new community policing commission created by the voters last fall.

Both are structured very differently from the Canton commission.

The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), a nonprofit that supports oversight groups, says there’s no one right way to form an effective oversight board. of the font. Some of the key characteristics recommended by the association include independence, sufficient authority and transparency. He said the effectiveness of an oversight board depends on how well the groups involved work together.

The Akron City Council in September approved legislation introduced by Mayor Dan Horrigan for an 11-person police oversight board. The mayor will appoint six members with council approval and the council will directly appoint five members, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

The Akron City Council in September approved legislation introduced by Mayor Dan Horrigan for an 11-person police oversight board. The mayor will appoint six members with council approval and the city council will directly appoint five members, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

The council will be made up of at least one resident from each city ward, an attorney, and experts in mental health, racial equity and social justice, and law enforcement. Members will be paid $100 per meeting ― up to $1,200 per year ― and encouraged to attend the Akron Police Department’s Citizen Academy and escort officers.

However, there is also a competing proposal. A citizen-led charter amendment will appear on the November ballot and, if approved by voters, would create a nine-member citizen police oversight board and an independent police auditor. The charter amendment would take precedence over council legislation and could not be amended by the council. Horrigan plans to codify his supervisory board with a ballot initiative next year.

The Cleveland Police Department has operated under a federal consent decree since 2015 after an investigation determined the department had a pattern of excessive force. The executive order created the Cleveland Community Police Commission with the goal of bringing “community voices into the process of police reform.”

In November 2021, voters approved Number 24―a ballot initiative to establish the commission under the city charter. It also changed the composition and authority of the Commission and the Civilian Police Review Board.

Mayor Justin Bibb will appoint 10 members to the new Community Police Commission with council approval, and city council will directly appoint three members. According to, the council polled the finalists in September and the mayor was expected to announce his picks this month.

The new commission, which is to be “broadly representative of the racial, social, economic and cultural interests of the community”, will have “final authority” over police discipline, training and policies. Issue 24 also gave the Civilian Police Review Board the power to overrule the chief of police’s disciplinary decisions, among other powers.

Contact Kelly at 330-580-8323 or [email protected].On Twitter: @kbyerREP