By Morgan Hallam and Shaquiena Davis
In today’s society, police always seem to be under attack in the media and by their communities for doing something incorrectly. Both the Kent and Akron Police Department are trying to create a healthy and friendly environment for the people they protect.
Akron Police has a unit called The Neighborhood Response Team which goes out to engage with the community by going to meetings with the community and block watch meetings. Officer Jim Leadbetter and Officer Aaron Brown are on the response team. Officer Brown said their unit sees the more positive side of the community and how they interact with police.
“They’ll even back us up and say ‘we know you guys get a lot of negative publicity in the the media but just want you to know, we’re here to support you guys and think you do a great job,’” said Officer Brown.
Recent years have shown a larger disparity in unarmed killings of minority populations, according to a study by the Guardian in 2015. Racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims. They also made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron is a predominantly white liberal progressive, welcoming and inclusive community for a wide variety of people. The UU Church aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement because they felt they had the voice and platform to speak out against the racial injustice and police violence happening to black communities.
“We always say at the beginning of our services ‘whoever you are and wherever you’ve come from you are welcome here.’ That spirit of radical hospitality and welcome at the heart of what the church is about,” Reverend Tim Temerson said.
Akron police said their relationship with the community was good but Rev. Temerson and reviews on the Akron Police Department Facebook tell another story.
“My impression is that it’s somewhat mixed that there have certainly been some incidents of police violence with the community, particularly with the black community,” Rev. Temerson said.
A lot of the reviews on their Facebook said a lot of crude and harsh things towards the police department. Going even as far as saying they are “untrained” and “not a friend to animals” after several reports were made about a man abusing his dog.
Kent and Akron are two very different communities, despite being near each other. Akron has a population of around 198 thousand people. About 60 thousand of their population is black, whereas Kent only has a population of around 29 thousand with only about 2 thousand black residents.
The coverage of police brutality is creating a rift between communities but Kent and Akron have rarely experienced anything as big as Ferguson.
Lieutenant Mike Lewis has been a police officer in the city of Kent for 15 years. He joined the police force because he wanted to help people, which he said is a cliche many officers will agree with. He spends a lot of his time doing community outreach in Kent showing the community police aren’t out to get you.
“I’m in charge of a lot of citizen programs where we interact with residents throughout the city. We do coffee with a cop programs, we do the citizens police academy. We have the Community Development Block Grant, where we get our police officers out of their cruisers and on foot walking through neighborhoods and apartment complexes,” said Lt. Lewis.
The city of Kent is a college town. Downtown was revitalized due to the college being here and it’s allowed for a wide range of ages to live in the city. Lt. Lewis said most of the crime in Kent was having to break up college parties, noise complaints and routine traffic stops.
Both Kent and Akron feel a strong connection to the community they strive to serve and protect. The departments are both involved with the people in their city and they have events that allows people to engage with them in a normal setting.
“I know everyone in my unit is pretty down to earth cause I don’t think they could do this job if they weren’t. There’s all different types of police officers, there are police officers that are gonna go out there and hunt the drugs, they’re gonna be real go-getters,” said Officer Leadbetter.
Police officers are there to enforce laws and maintain the safety of the community. Media has been portraying police in a harsher light, sparking controversy and conversations. Kent and Akron police are working with their community to have open dialogue with residents to make them feel protected.
Morgan Hallam: Written/interviews
Shaquiena Davis- Broadcast/interviews