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'We're living in different times.' Akron officials to address safety concerns at city parks

Council members Mosley, Lombardo, McKitrick
Akron City Council
Akron City Councilmember Tara Mosley (left) asks a question during a safety committee meeting on Sept. 18, 2023.

After several young people were shot at parks over the summer, Akron is considering ramping up security requirements for community events.

Council members have brought forth concerns that no police were present when a teen was shot at a Juneteenth celebration at Stoner Hawkins Park. Then, in August, two people, including a 7-year-old boy, were shot at a youth football game at Lane Field.

Akron City Council’s public safety committee met with representatives from the parks and recreation, public service, public safety and other city departments Monday to discuss possible solutions.

The city is considering requiring Akron police officers at all youth sporting events, said public service director Eufrancia Lash.

“We’re discussing making that a requirement. We have not come to a conclusion yet because we wanted to allow other voices to weigh in,” Lash told council members during the meeting.

To host a community event at a city facility or park, individuals must fill out an application through the city’s event planning office. Questions on the application pertain to how many attendees are expected and whether the organizer would like to request an officer to patrol the event, said Laurie Chenevey, the city’s community event planning coordinator.

Ward 5 Councilmember Tara Mosley, who represents parts of the east and north sides of Akron, suggested the city require police presence at more crowded community events.

Gert Wilms, Mayor Dan Horrigan’s chief of staff, asked Mosley if she had a suggested number of attendees that would require security.

“Maybe a threshold, maybe a starting point saying that [if] they’re going to have over 100 people at a park, it’s mandatory that you have Akron Police Department or Summit County Sheriff’s department, because they can utilize them as well,” Mosley said.

Mosley added that she requests police at every community event she plans, regardless of the expected number of attendees, and she has not experienced any major safety concerns.

In the weeks since the shooting at Lane Field, Akron police have ramped up security at parks and youth sporting events.

However, representatives from the Akron Police Department said they’re understaffed, and patrolling the hundreds of community events each year isn’t feasible.

If security would be mandated at sporting events, and a police officer isn’t available, the event wouldn’t be able to go forward, said Sean Vollman, the city’s deputy mayor for integrated development.

Chair of the safety committee, Ward 7 Councilmember Donnie Kammer, said they need to keep brainstorming.

“I understand we have that staffing issue, but we have to come up with something,” Kammer said. “We are living in different times, OK ... in regards to the events that are in our parks, in our communities, and we have to make sure people feel safe.”

Council members also threw out ideas like contracting with private security companies, asking for assistance from the county sheriff’s office or starting a community policing program.

Akron public service officials are weighing all options and expect to bring forth possible solutions in the coming months, Lash said.

Kammer also asked if a council member could be added to the board that approves applications for community events.

“We, as council, are the ones that get the phone calls. We’re the ones that have to go on the news stations and get quoted in the news articles and obviously listen to folks that come down here and speak at our public comment period. It just seems like we should be involved more,” Kammer said.

Currently, that board is made up of city officials from the police, fire, integrated development and mayor’s offices, Chenevey said.

Other council business

City council voted Monday night to authorize city officials to apply for and expend funds from environmental grants.

One grant would help residents in underserved neighborhoods reduce greenhouse gases.

Akron is one of 31 cities in the Midwest, including Cleveland, applying for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If awarded, the city would spend $10 million to help power 1,000 homes in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with solar energy, said Emily Collins, the mayor’s strategic adviser.

“It allows each household to come up with their own contractor they’d like to use, but it just depends on the mechanism we’re using,” Collins said. “It could be a combination of the city contracting with an entity to do the installation, or residents themselves deciding who to choose.”

Another grant targets the city’s tree canopy.

The city will authorize $25,000 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Urban Canopy Restoration Grant to plant 71 additional trees in the city.

Updated: September 18, 2023 at 7:53 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include action by Akron City Council Monday evening.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.