A movement to stop the renewal of the Athens City Police Department’s union contract has turned into a petition, where over 260 individuals have signed support.
The petition says the contract will waste city funding, shields officers from public accountability, and allows records of police misconduct to be destroyed, in addition to a number of other issues.
The group was first led by the Athens County Copwatch, which has launched a website with records obtained from Athens County law enforcement agencies. Currently, the majority of records obtained have been for the Athens Police Department, Ohio University Police Department and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office. Using that data, the group published several break downs of the received use of force reports and other aspects of racism in policing.
According to the Athens County Copwatch analysis, APD officer Ethan Doerr uses excessive force and also displays racism in his arrest rates. The group states that Doerr
- uses force against Black individuals six times more than with white individuals;
- arrests Black individuals 1.6 times more often than white individuals, which the group calculated to be only “marginally worse” than the department’s average of 1.46;
- deploys his stun gun 2.49 times a year on average, although the department’s average is 0.2;
- and has the highest amount of takedowns in the department, which Athens County Copwatch statisticians calculated to be on average 3.3 per year — the department’s average is 0.94 take downs on average per officer per year.
The group also took a look at OUPD statistics, and reported that black individuals are stopped by the department between 2.27-2.56 times more on average than white individuals.
One of the specific incidents that the group has looked into is an arrest made in part by Doerr concerning Ty Bealer, a University of Cincinnati student. Bealer was seen in videos recorded by individuals on Court Street in September 2019. The videos show Bealer pinned to the ground by two officers, while a third worked to handcuff him. The group contended this is a direct example of racism in policing.
During a Black Lives Matter rally held in late August, OU student Keshawn Mellon noted that Doerr has been commended by superiors for his use of force. The group quoted Athens City Council Member Sarah Grace as saying there are “many things we do not know about (Bealer’s) incident.”
“Things that I have learned since watching the video is that, though the video looked violent and frightening, the individual was not harmed...I know that our law enforcement officers are trained, and they are trained in a manner to keep the individual that is being arrested, as well as the people surrounding them, the public, safe,” the pamphlet quotes Grace stating.
The pamphlet further notes that Bealer “required medical treatment for his injuries.”
In light of this and other issues, the petition put forth by Damon Krane, a candidate for Athens City Mayor in 2019; Beth Amoriya, a noted local activist; and Brendan Moran calls for a closer look into the Athens Police Contract.
The petition has been officially endorsed by Athens County Copwatch. On the group’s Facebook page, details of the contract were publicized. In one screenshot, the 2018-2020 contract states that an employee who fails to appear for a scheduled overtime assignment will still be credited with the amount of overtime refused “as if it had been worked.” The contract also notes a stipend of $1,100 for uniform purchases and maintenance for each year of service completed.
“Sworn personnel” are officers required to wear “plain clothes” and are given an allowance of $1,200 annually for their uniform purchases and maintenance.
The contract also notes that oral reprimands can be removed from an employee’s personnel file every year at the request of the employee, if no written notice is filed during that year’s time. Written reprimands get the same treatment but on an 18-month basis.
Records of suspensions can also be removed from an employee’s personnel file 24 months after the suspension date, provided there is “no intervening disciplinary actions against the employee” during the two year period. After two years, demotions cannot be used in future disciplinary considerations.
Other items may not appear to be a detriment to the community, but raise an eyebrow. For one, the city is mandated to provide a bulletin board for the Labor Council’s use, and the Labor Council agreed to keep the board clean of several things: attacks on other employee organizations, scandalous, scurrilous or derogatory attacks on the city administration, personal attacks on any city employee, and any ethnic material. What the Council and City defines as “ethnic” is not noted.
Krane, who is a member of the Athens County Copwatch and one of the three individuals who has promoted the petition to stop the contract renewal, said that his main frustration on the issue is the lack of response from the city council and administration. Several members have noted their stance against racism — a resolution was approved on June 22 declaring racism a public health crisis in the city.
At the June 22 meeting, Council Member Sarah Grace cited data from the American Health Association and the Ohio Department of Health which indicates a higher rate of health inequities due to racism and a higher rate of mortality from infant births, heart disease, COVID-19, cancer and more. Because of this, the resolution called for multiple actions from the city of Athens, including that:
- The mayor create a work group to promote racial equity, community engagement and build partnerships with that “have a history of fighting racism,” as stated by Grace.
- Elected officials receive racial equity training.
- The city’s code be reviewed “under a lens of racial equity.”
- And human resource actions will be taken under the same lens of racial equity, including hiring, firing and bonuses.
At the June meeting, Mayor Steve Patterson commented that there were “several action items that need to be addressed” included in the resolution and expressed his support.
A rally was held during the Oct. 5 Athens City Council meeting, where individuals called in to the virtual meeting and relayed their concerns with the city’s lack of response to its own resolution. The group also raised concerns with the upcoming police contract renewal and called on the council to take its time on the contract renewal, which takes place every three years, and create a more transparent method of revising the city’s union contracts.