As Dayton Launches Police Reform Plan, Some Question Whether It Will Lead To Real Change
Following nationwide protests of police brutality against Black people, local governments across the country are reevaluating police practices. In Dayton, the city commission has launched five working groups to address police reform which will begin meeting this month. But some local leaders who have worked on these issues for years question whether the new plan will lead to real change.
The first major demonstration in Dayton after the killing of George Floyd began midday on May 30 at the steps of the federal building. Residents spoke about their experiences with the police and systemic racism against Black people.
After the planned event, the crowd began to march through Dayton. Once the group reached an intersection on Wayne Avenue near the entrance of U.S. 35, they were met by a line of police officers. The police ordered people to disperse, and then used tear gas and pepper balls on the crowd.
Jared Grandy was there that day. He was a city employee. Since 2016 he had served as the community-police relations coordinator. In his role he worked with the Community Police Council, a group formed in 2011 made up of community members, faith leaders, police officials and city leaders working on community-police relations.
“When we hit the streets to demonstrate, we discovered that the Dayton Police Department was ready for what seemed to be war,” he said. “What I experienced was, seemingly, officers shoot pellet guns into the crowd who wasn't doing anything to them.”
He said he tried to negotiate with the officers at the intersection to allow the demonstrators to keep walking, but it seemed to him like none of the officers on the front line knew who he was.
“It was embarrassing and I felt insulted by the fact that I've convened meetings with very intelligent, courageous and busy people, frankly, to have these conversations in these boardrooms to talk about these issues,” he said. “But I felt as if I had wasted people's time because the rank and file officers didn't even know those conversations were being had.”
Grandy was scheduled to leave his position at the end of July, but after what he experienced at the protest he decided to resign that day. That week on June 3 Mayor Nan Whaley announced steps the city would take to address police department policies.
The steps included increasing transparency in reporting police misconduct, reviewing use of force policies, continuing implicit bias and de-escalation training, increasing diversity in the police force, and continuing community engagement efforts.
At the press conference, city officials were met with pointed questions from residents about the announcement and inaction in the past.
Dayton resident Ja’net Graham asked, “This is advertised as a new initiative. What is new about these initiatives? You guys have been working on these same initiatives for years. It seems like crumbs.”
The mayor responded that there would now be action on the things the Community Police Council had talked about in the past and there would be quarterly reports released to the public.
Rebecca Gaytko, Special Projects Administrator for the Dayton Police Department, said in an email that the department wants to respect the process being led by the mayor, and that some of the suggested reforms are currently part of department policy or training.
“We are aware and embrace the fact that there is always room for increased knowledge and improvement in policies, procedures, and practices in our profession, along with strengthening our relationship with our citizens, business community, and visitors,” she said on behalf of Chief Richard Biehl.
On June 11, the week following the mayor’s announcement, the Community Police Council met over Zoom. Some members expressed their concerns.
CPC member Scott Sliver said that he had heard comments that the announcement of the five points was perceived as lip service.
“People know we’ve been working on these things and then people say, well, why is the commission, the mayor, or whatever, just looking at these things now?” he said. “If NASCAR can get rid of the Confederate flag in just a couple of days, I think we can do something that's really meaningful, that's bold.”
Another CPC member Moses Mbeseha said that the five focus areas were not well thought out, and that four of the five issues had been addressed in the CPC’s 2018 report.
“As I reviewed the mayor's five-point plan, it is very evident to me that she had not yet read that document or if she had, it would be important that it is reviewed again,” he said.
All of the city commissioners, the police chief, the city manager, and the mayor were on the call. In the mayor’s final comments at the meeting, she said the level of frustration of the group showed her that it had not been working.
“I think the work you've done is valiant. Clearly, the structure hasn't gotten the change that you want,” she said. “So I want us to be wide open about what the structure would be that would affect change in the future and how that looks long term.”
The new structure the city landed on involves five working groups, each co-led by the mayor or a city commissioner and a community member. More people will be involved than in the past, with over 100 people participating. The work will be done over six to nine months, but some actions could happen much sooner, Whaley said.
Whaley said she came up with the plan and then collaborated with the commissioners on how it would be set up. She said she sought feedback from some community members who became co-leaders, but she did not want to slow down the process by getting broader community input on the new framework.
Some members of the CPC questioned why the mayor did not consult with them, and whether the mayor had read the group’s past reports. In an interview with WYSO last week, Whaley said she had not previously known about the reports, but had recently received and reviewed the 2017 and 2018 reports.
“I did not have an appreciation for any of the reports they had done. I do appreciate that and appreciate their frustration, but we need to move forward,” she said. “There are either people that are willing and committed to moving forward to get outcomes, because if that's what you're about, but if you're going to be upset over some past pieces that really we had no idea about, I mean, what's the goal here?”
Many members of the CPC are participating in the new working groups, including the CPC co-chair Julio Mateo. He thinks including more voices in the conversation is great, but he says the commission could implement at least some changes right away.
He says, if community members do not actively hold city officials accountable, “I still have the same concerns about this being community engagement that only makes people feel like they are contributing but doesn't lead to real change.”
The working groups will begin meeting this month. Mateo says the CPC's past recommendations, which were developed with police and city officials, were never really implemented. Based on his experience, he says he cannot assume the new process will bring real change.