More than 100 people have agreed to be part of the city of Dayton’s efforts to make police reforms after weeks of protests and uproar across the region, state and country about police misconduct and racial justice.
Five working groups, each consisting of about 22 members, are expected to meet about every other week to discuss, examine and come up with recommendations on the specific focus areas of oversight, use of force, training, engagement and recruitment and promotion, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
Some committee members say they believe in the process, and think it can and must lead to significant and meaningful reforms.
However, some members and outside observers say they are skeptical and worry the working groups may have a hard time getting results that address systemic issues.
They say they fear recommendations for reforms might run into the same kinds of resistance from the police department that have prevented changes from taking place in the past.
“We believe the groups will make recommendations for change, but whether those recommendations make a difference is unknowable at this point in the process,” said Montgomery County Public Defender Theresa Haire.
Each working group will have a member of the city commission, two members of the Montgomery County Public Defender’s office, three Dayton police staff members and members of the Community Police Council, according to records provided by the city.
Other participants include community activists, entrepreneurs, faith leaders, well-known community members, elected officials and members of the Human Relations Council and the Police and Clergy Together initiative.
City commissioners and the mayor will serve as co-leaders on the working groups because that means the commission and city leadership can act quickly to change policies or take up new legislation, Whaley said.
“It moves faster having the commissioners as the co-heads of the working groups, rather than having it farmed out,” she said. “This is important enough that this is our work.”
This approach to tackling police reforms was not based on any particular model, but it was developed with community-input in mind, Whaley said.
The committees will provide recommendations for changes that hopefully will improve transparency, accountability, faith and trust in the police-complaint process and achieve other priorities related to equitable treatment and social justice, she said.
The process could take six to nine months, but some changes should come much sooner, possibly within weeks, said Whaley, who is co-leader of a committee that’s focused on recruitment and promotion.
“I have been very clear: We are not going to produce reports out of these working groups, and just have a pretty report,” Whaley said. “These groups are about action.”
Alana Brookshire has agreed to be a member of the community engagement committee and her husband, Anthony Brookshire, will serve on the training committee.
Alana Brookshire said they were asked to join the working groups after theyspoke out at the June 3 press conference where Whaley announced the five-point approach to reforms.
At the press event, Brookshire, a 28-year-old local entrepreneur who has a master’s degree in social work, railed against what she said was racism in the police department and a lack of accountability.
Brookshire said she believes these working groups provide a unique opportunity to bring relevant stakeholders and opposing sides to the same table, including community members and city and police officials, to have difficult but necessary conversations that come up with real solutions.
She said she wants the Dayton Police Department to rethink how it patrols and polices poor and minority neighborhoods.
Brookshire said she’d like to see policing in Dayton more closely resemble law enforcement models in wealthier suburban communities, where officers often live and work in the same neighborhoods.
She said the Dayton Police Department must improve transparency and bridge the divide between officers and people of color and impoverished residents, who feel mistreated.
“I hope to get out of this immediate change,” she said. “I hope that we can start to scrub the ranks and really reveal some of the deadly things we have going on the force.”
Stacey Benson-Taylor, the co-leader of the group focused on training, said each committee represents the racial, cultural, social and professional diversity found in the city, which is needed for this work.
She said the goal is to present recommendations on de-escalation, implicit bias and cultural competency that strengthen the training police officers receive. She said that should then help improve community-police relations and provide a safe policing environment for citizens and officers as well.
“I agreed to be a co-leader because I believe we are poised to make some great changes in our community and I want to be a part of the process,” said Benson-Taylor, who is regional director for AFSCME Ohio Council 8 and who also serves on the Dayton Unit NAACP executive committee.
Haire, the county public defender, said she and members of her team have agreed to join these groups because they strongly believe police reform is necessary.
She said she hopes the reforms end over-policing in poor communities and police change their use-of-force policies and adopt more accountability measures.
“And (by) the end of the process, we hope that we have contributed to reform that preserves public safety while concurrently ensuring that all of our citizens are treated equally,” she said.
Some people are not convinced that the working groups are going to be able to change police culture.
City officials in each working group need to ensure this is not a waste of time for community members, said Jared Grandy, who in late May resigned as the city’s community-police relations coordinator, citing frustration with police leadership’s “unwillingness” to accept changes.
If the mayor and commission are sincere about real reforms, they will seek changes far beyond the proposed five-point plan, said Grandy, who is not a member of any of the working groups.
For instance, Grandy said, many people want and demand an independent police review board with actual authority, but the current plan only calls for strengthening the existing Citizens’ Appeal Board.
“This serves as evidence the commission is more interested in controlling the narrative than bringing about actual reform,” he said.
Grandy said he fears the working groups will be little more than “sounding boards” for the community’s frustration, because they lack important decision-makers, including city administrators and police and union leaders.
It is notable that members of the Dayton Community Police Council (CPC) will serve on each committee given recent friction between the CPC and city and police leadership.
Like Grandy, CPC members recently expressed significant frustration with the city and police department, saying they felt their work and negotiated recommendations for reforms were ignored. Some CPC members voiced concerns that the CPC would be disbanded and its work dismissed in favor of the new working groups.
Whaley said the CPC has been working on police-community relations and police reforms for years, and their insight and recommendations will be valuable during this process.
Carlos Buford, founder of Black Lives Matter Dayton, says he has mixed feelings about the working groups.
He said he feels it is crucial to support the community leaders on the committees that represent the everyday citizens, especially Black people who are being racially profiled, and the committees could make some good decisions.
But he said he’s also concerned that some people will undervalue the voices of the Black community and deflect responsibility from the culture of policing that he says is a major problem.