The word ‘interim’ has been removed from Akron Police Chief Ken Ball’s title. And now that it's official, the new chief is talking about staffing, race relations and other key issues.
The 26-year veteran of law enforcement says the first thing to know about his new job is that there are both long-range and immediate issues in urgent need of attention.
Among immediate priorities is what he says is a critical situation with aging and deteriorating equipment--especially vehicles that must be replaced.
“I sent a document to the city yesterday outlining our purchase of new vehicles and (it) will include 42 to 48 new vehicles. And that’s on top of $600,000 that was already budgeted that will provide approximately 25. So we’re looking at almost 70 vehicles to be replaced in 2017. That will have a huge impact on our ability to do our jobs and do them in a way that’s safe.”
Another practical matter that Ball says he and his department are working on has to do with staffing. Due to economic strains, the city has not replaced some officers when they retired or left. Ball wants to get the force back to strength.
“We’re in the process of hiring right now. We have six officers that we’ve given conditional job offers to that are in police academies and will be graduating this month. In addition to that I’ve gotten approvals from our finance department and the mayor for hiring 15 additional people. That 21 will take us from 435; 455 is our budgeted strength.”
The chief says he’s spoken with the mayor about adding more personnel; but a full discussion of that will come in 2018. He also says that recruiting and retaining highly qualified officers and achieving more diversity in the department are priorities.
Minorities and morale
Ball is replacing James Nice, who was forced out this summer after allegations he had an affair with a subordinate, interfered in a criminal invesgtion and acknowledged using a racial epithet. Asked if that makes his job more difficult, Ball responded, "I can tell you that in the last month I’ve spoken to our human resource director and also to the NAACP about crafting strategies that allow us to have better results in our recruiting efforts.”
There is also the relationship with Akron’s inner city communities to take into account, says Ball. He notes that discussions have begun to find ways to increase recruiting efforts there, especially with young people.
"Maybe it’s a program that we develop in partnership with Akron Public Schools, where there is a learning track that is geared to first responders. We have it in our schools currently with engineering, or with vocal and performing arts, or with hospitality. Could this be a program that we develop, again in partnership, where we get their attention at a young age, and then ... start a development process that is going to allow them to have success?”
Another kind of development process on Chief Ball’s mind is downtown development and the hoped-for revitalization of Akron as a residential city.
He sees many of the key issues, like making downtown pedestrian friendly and a secure and comfortable place to live, as things the police force can help create.
“As a matter of fact, we had a meeting a couple of weeks ago and the planners invited me into that process to help to evaluate positive steps the city can take toward that end. Internally, there will have to be an evolution within the department to be able to address that changing dynamic if we have a larger concentration of people that are living downtown.
"It’s essential for police to be involved in that. It won’t happen if there’s not a sense of people being safe and that downtown is a welcoming place.”
'Fairness in all things'
What does Ken Ball want the people of Akron to think about their new police chief?
"I just want people to know that as a man and as a person, the things that are fundamental to me serve this position well. And I’m not going to change: I believe there is a fairness in all things that is absolutely essential.”
Ball’s appointment as chief is for an initial four-year term.