City officials have set Dec. 9 as the date they plan to respond to a recent report that indicates its safety department stops and tickets black drivers at a much higher percentage than they represent in Oakwood.
Several residents spoke out last week, telling council they are hoping to see thorough data presented at the meeting and would also like to see the city work to diversify the safety department and address the perception that the city has a “chilly climate” towards people of color.
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), a nonprofit law firm that represents low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio, and University of Dayton criminal justice professor Martha Hurley released their report last month. It said traffic-ticket data in Oakwood shows that black drivers in Oakwood accounted for nearly 22 percent of the stops where a problem with driving or equipment was observed, but they accounted for nearly 37 percent of stops where a license plate check was run without tickets being written for an observable driving or equipment problem.
Oakwood’s black population is less than 1 percent and its total non-white population is less than 7 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Some residents, including Sam Dorf, expressed to council last week that several people in the community are hoping to see the issue studied thoroughly. Dorf wanted to know if any action has been taken in the 30 days since the ABLE document was presented to city officials.
“Now that you have had at least 30 days to look over the document, I would like to know how council feels about the document and steps to move forward with the document,” he said.
Vice-Mayor Steve Byington said that at council’s last meeting, the decision was made to analyze data and conduct information-gathering meetings with the report’s authors in order to compile a response to the community and have credible information for any internal purposes.
“We’ve since had two meetings with that group, and we are in the process of reviewing some information and possibly having a third meeting on that, and we are planning on presenting our finding at our Dec. 9 meeting,” Byington said. “All I can tell you at this point is that we are reviewing the information, and we’ve had discussion, and I think they have been very positive discussions.”
He added that city officials did not expect to have everything resolved in one or two meetings but will exercise due diligence in addressing issues raised in the report.
Byington said the city isn’t just looking at the issue because of the report, but “this is something that we look at all year long. So, it is something that is not necessarily foreign in terms of the perception that Oakwood has received in the press, and it is something that we are continually looking for – how do we become more inclusive and make sure that everybody feels welcome?”
He believes that the city has always worked to make sure that everybody feels welcome.
“I think we do a fairly good job at that throughout the year,” Byington said.
Myrna Gabbe joined Dorf in asking city officials to make sure that Oakwood strives to be as inclusive as it can be, which includes looking to diversify the safety department.
“I’d like to know if there is any discussion on diversifying the police force,” Gabbe said. “My perception is that there isn’t much diversity on the force.”
She said that the community could benefit with more women and people of color represented in the department.
Byington said that is not a discussion that city officials are having.
“We have the best possible police force right now,” he said. “The policy of Oakwood is always to hire the absolute best possible officers that we can. I don’t think that we look at race, creed, color or any of those things in determining who we hire to our police force.”
Roger Crumb said that other organizations, ranging from public service to private enterprise, have made it a point to develop strategic initiatives to achieve diversity.
“I think as a community, we need to work both on the perceptions of our community and the actions of our community,” Crumb said. “I think the question of diversity is at the core of that.”
Leslie Picca told council that she does believe the ABLE report underscores a larger issue involving the perception that Oakwood has a “chilly climate” towards people of color.
“That is a perception that harms all of us,” Picca said, “especially looking at the changing demographics in the United States. “
She said that the topic should lead to the community working with city officials to turn the issue into a “win-win” for Oakwood.
Mayor Bill Duncan said Law Director Rob Jacques and Director of Public Safety Alan Hill have met with the report’s authors, Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney with ABLE, and Hurley, to discuss findings.
“We take all matters seriously related to the delivery of our public safety services and have already completed an initial review of the report,” Duncan said. “Through this review, we identified several areas that merit further discussion.”
He said Oakwood has anti-bias training for the safety department in place since 2012 that has been updated each year, including dealing with issues like implicit bias, racial profiling and cultural diversity.
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