Dayton leaders, police council say improved police relations is possible

Dayton police ride bikes alongside protesters on Wayne Ave. Saturday to protect them as they march for George Floyd. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
Dayton police ride bikes alongside protesters on Wayne Ave. Saturday to protect them as they march for George Floyd. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Members of Dayton’s Community Police Council, the city’s mayor and police chief met this week for the first time since protests broke out in the city and the coordinator of the council resigned because he said the police department leadership was not interested in improving relations with the city’s residents.

Members told the city leaders that the council has proposed meaningful changes to department policies and training that were negotiated with city and police officials and which could be put in place soon to help address the divide. The Community Police Council is a program administered by the Human Relations Council.

The council is the primary way for citizen input to be brought to City Hall over police policies and practices. Since protests have broken out over police treatment of some African-Americans, members of the council have said they are frustrated because their work to prevent this has been largely ignored.

“I don’t think the CPC hasn’t been working,” said council member Dion Sampson. “The frustration is we seem to be talking among ourselves, and when we send it up, it gets stuck.”

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Community-police relations coordinator Jared Grandy resigned last week citing frustration with what he said was police leadership’s resistance to community-recommended changes.

Police Chief Richard Biehl, who took part in Thursday’s meeting, said the council was created with the idea of “mutual accountability.”

He said the council has to be committed to doing the work to create safer neighborhood environments. He also said the council needs to work on neighborhood problems related to public safety.

Mayor Nan Whaley apologized to council members for their growing dissatisfaction. She said she wishes the city commission had paid more attention to their work.

“I am sorry you poured your heart and soul into this and felt it didn’t matter,” she said. “I’m not going to make excuses for any of that, but I feel bad that is how you feel.”

But Whaley said she wants to move the city forward and encouraged council members to help with current and new efforts to improve relations, if they are up for it.

She said she wants to broaden the conversation and bring in additional voices. She promised the city will take “concrete” action in the five areas outlined in her plan.

Council members said they shared Grandy’s impatience and disappointment with what they see as the police department’s reluctance to adopt negotiated proposals.

Council co-chair Julio Mateo said following the events of last week he nearly lost all hope that city and police leaders would ever listen to the council.

“I was frustrated, I was outraged, I was quite literally out of my mind, filled with all sorts of emotions I have never experienced in my life, much less all at the same time,” Mateo said. “It was an extremely challenging week for me, as I’m sure it has been for tens of thousands of people in Dayton and around the world.”

But Mateo said he still feels the council can be an asset that can help the city expedite the development of an action plan to bring real change and ensure accountability in the police department.

He said the council developed recommendations in cooperation with the police department and city officials, and if the city isn’t ready to implement those changes, he does not know what it actually is willing to do.

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Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl speaks at a Community Police Council meeting in 2019. Council members Scott Sliver and Dion Sampson are also pictured. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl speaks at a Community Police Council meeting in 2019. Council members Scott Sliver and Dion Sampson are also pictured. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Recommendations from 2019 called for:

- Comprehensive cross-cultural training that goes beyond PowerPoint presentations and educational materials but would be hands-on, scenario-based practical exercises in which officers develop real skills, similar to teaching how to fire a gun or restrain a suspect.

- A “restorative justice” approach to handling low-level offenders

- Improved de-escalation training for all officers and recruits

- Improved “procedural justice” training

- Improved response times balanced with more personable interaction with residents

Branford Brown, a council member, said this moment presents a unique opportunity to make major and needed changes in the criminal justice system. But he said Dayton citizens, either through the council or other avenues, must be active participants in the development of police department policies.

“The time to just have words (and) conversations is over,” he said. “That’s not going to be acceptable in this community anymore.”

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Council member Scott Sliver said he wants to see the city take immediate steps that send a message to the community that Dayton is truly committed to reforms.

“If NASCAR can get rid of the Confederate flag in just a couple of days, I think we can do something that is real meaningful and bold,” he said.

Some council members said they wanted police to participate in anti-racist training that would include layers of accountability if officers fell short of expectations.

The city also needs to recruit police officers who feel connected to the communities they patrol and who love to be around the people they serve, said Shannon Isom, council member.

This is work that needs accountability standards like metrics, dashboards and reports to the community, Isom said.

She said she will write a grant and find a way to “donate a body” if she has to because the work and mission means that much to her.

Whaley said she does not know what the future of the council will be. She said it might be time to overhaul the group.

Earlier this week, Whaley said her police reform plan might take six to nine months to complete. She said she envisions working groups needing that time to formulate recommendations for actions that the commission and city can immediately enact.

But she said she expects to have an update soon with more details of the plan, and she thinks work and progress will be made “very quickly.”

The council’s work has made a difference in the city and has resulted in positive outcomes, said Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw.

He said the city decriminalized marijuana for social justice reasons, and it also created a new recruitment program that has successfully boosted diversity, called Homegrown Heroes.

Shaw said he would like to see more stakeholders come to the table to discuss potential changes, such as a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union.

City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild said he believes there will be changes in how citizens are included the process of developing police policies.

He said he isn’t sure if the council will be in place in its current form, but he hopes council members play some kind of role because their expertise and input is needed.