Dayton police reform groups get to work: What participants are saying

Three of the five working groups focused on police reforms in Dayton met on Tuesday and Wednesday. A fourth committee meets Friday. JIM NOELKER / STAFF
Three of the five working groups focused on police reforms in Dayton met on Tuesday and Wednesday. A fourth committee meets Friday. JIM NOELKER / STAFF

Three working groups focused on police reforms met for the first time this week where members discussed their backgrounds, reasons for joining the committees and hopes to fix a “deficit of trust” between Black residents and Dayton police.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley last month created five committees with the stated goal of improving relations between the community and Dayton police following local protests about police misconduct and racial justice.

The working groups started meeting virtually Tuesday, and some members said they believe the right people are at the table to develop recommendations to truly improve law enforcement culture, policies and interactions with the public.

But other committee members say they fear this could be a waste of their time because they worry this process will not result in real meaningful change, especially if there is no mechanism of accountability to ensure their recommendations are implemented.

“I hope that I can bring something to the table, but I am viewing this whole process with a great deal of skepticism,” said Bishop Richard Cox, who is a member of the training working group.

Dayton elected leaders, who are co-leads on the committees, say they are taking this seriously and plan to present the groups’ recommendations to police leadership or the city manager for adoption or pass new city ordinances or resolutions to make reforms.

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On Tuesday and Wednesday, the working groups focused on recruitment, community engagement and training held their first meetings via Zoom.

The roughly 22-member committees are expected to meet for the next six to nine months, with plans to meet every other week, at least in the beginning. The initial meetings lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. A working group focused on oversight meets Friday.

The first meetings provided members an opportunity to introduce themselves and share stories about their experiences with law enforcement and why they care about this work. Group co-leads outlined their committees’ missions and how they hope to produce recommendations based on a consensus of members.

Working group members expressed varying views of police-community relations and their reasons for participating in the process, but generally they agreed the police department needs to increase trust with Black citizens.

Recruitment committee

The committee focused on recruitment, promotion and discipline is expected to review hiring and discipline data, and members will learn about the city’s processes partly through explanatory videos from Dayton’s civil service, human resources and law departments.

Some committee members said the hiring process must weed out anyone with racist views and the police department should only hire people who truly view police work as service and who feel connected to the areas they patrol.

Rev. Mila Cooper, the associate pastor of Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church who serves on the group, said she is concerned about the mindset of police officers. She said she wants to see the police department to do a deeper dive into candidates' backgrounds to make sure the right people get to wear a badge.

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Susan Souther, a committee member and an attorney with the Montgomery County Public Defender's office, said she wants to understand how police candidates are evaluated and hired.

She said many of her clients feel that police treat them unfairly and some officers are not fit for the job.

“I know there are good cops, but there’s also some who should not be out in the public and dealing with the people,” she said.

Some police officers on the committee said they hope the group’s recruitment and hiring recommendations will increase diversity among the ranks of the police force.

“I would love to be that bridge of change and communication between the citizens’ of Dayton and the police department,” said Dayton officer Leatha Savage.

William Gillispie, a committee member and retired Dayton deputy city manager, said he believes his group really can help dramatically change the racial makeup of the Dayton Police Department to reflect the community it serves.

“I am committed to changing the Dayton Police Department from 9% Black folks to 41% Black people,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of work to make that happen, but it can indeed happen.”

Dayton's population is about 40% Black, according to the Census, but police data show less than 7% of the city's police force is Black.

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The need for action

Shannon Isom, co-lead of the community engagement working group, said committee members are going to get homework and will be expected to come to the table prepared and ready to have tough and authentic conversations.

The group wants to look at the frequency of contact between police and citizens, how violent and non-violent situations are handled and interactions related to domestic violence, juveniles, the courts, drug addiction and mental health, said City Commissioner Chris Shaw, co-lead of the group.

Shaw said the goal is to move on recommendations quickly, and once there is consensus, he plans to present proposals to the city commission.

“This is not about reports — we are really about action in this group,” he said.

A survey of community engagement committee members shared Tuesday night indicated that 11 out of the 12 respondents felt neutral or better that this process will lead to real change.

However, only 40% of people associated with the working group responded to the survey, which was sent out by a city commission staffer who is assisting the committee.

Other committee participants say they are dubious that this work will lead to significant reforms.

“I am also skeptical about all of this too,” said Tristina Allen, a member of the training committee. “I am already involved in a lot of things in our community, and I don’t want to waste my time on another committee or board that isn’t going to be effective and change (things).”

Julio Mateo, a member of the training committee who serves on the Dayton Community Police Council, said he wants to see some level of accountability so the working group can review how its recommendations are actually implemented.

Mateo and other members of the Community Police Council previously have criticized the city and police department for what they say was leadership’s unwillingness to make negotiated changes that would improve police policies, training and interactions with citizens.

Commissioner Darryl Fairchild, co-lead of the group, suggested they could push for a way to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of their proposals.

Fairchild said he believes the commission will “honor the work” of the committees and will act on their recommendations.

Fairchild also said the main challenge will be reaching a consensus about reforms, especially given the size and diversity of the group.

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