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'We're committing together to be a part of the solution': Town halls on race and policing in the Valley continue

"We're committing together to be a part of the solution," said Pastor Kenneth Simon. "That might take some time ... but we want to be in this for the long haul."
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Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier (center), Struthers police Chief Tim Roddy (right) and Mahoning County Sheriff's Office Maj. William Cappabianca were some of the law enforcement officials who attended a second town hall on police reform, hosted Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown. (Screenshot via New Bethel Baptist Church)

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning and Trumbull County police officials joined Black leaders to continue discussions on race and policing in the Mahoning Valley.

The Next Steps Coalition in late June hosted the first “Policing in the Valley” town hall to discuss several police reform initiatives, including racial profiling, the use of excessive force and body cameras and independent citizen review boards.

Tuesday's follow-up forum at New Bethel Baptist Church along Hillman Street retread much of the first forum's topics but with some new perspectives. A third forum is set for September.

Police officials who joined Tuesday's discussion included:

  • Youngstown police Chief Robin Lees
  • Mahoning County Sheriff's Office Maj. William Cappabianca
  • Austintown police Chief Bob Gavalier
  • Canfield police Chief Chuck Colucci
  • Ohio State Highway Patrol Canfield Lt. Brad Bucey
  • Struthers police Chief Tim Roddy
  • Milton police Chief Chuck VanDyke
  • Beaver police Chief Carl Frost
  • Girard police Chief John Norman

Several other police departments were invited but did not send representatives, including: Boardman, Campbell, Coitsville, Hubbard, Mill Creek MetroParks and Warren.

Watch the full two-hour forum below:


Jaladah Aslam, president of the Youngstown Warren Black Caucus, noted only six of Mahoning County's 22 jurisdictions have been fully certified under the Ohio Collaborative's Community-Police Advisory Board, a former Gov. John Kasich-era program formed in 2015 following the death of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo.

Thirteen of the county's departments have been certified in the first of three sets of standards, according to the collaborative’s March report. The other nine hold no certifications at all, including Campbell Police Department, which employs 30 officers; Struthers Police Department, 21; and Poland Township, 18.

Struthers' Chief Roddy said he expects his department to be up-to-date on collaborative standards by year's end. Currently it outsources policy-making to a private company that drafts and updates procedure manuals for more than 8,000 public safety organizations nationwide.

"We're a smaller department. We're missing people. Every policy that we have meets or exceeds the collaborative's request," he said. "We're behind the 8-ball with some things."

Similarly, Lees said Youngstown Police Department, which has yet to seek its third certification on bias in policing, has been burdened by other administrative work. Colucci said Canfield Police Department stopped pursuing the second certification for use of body cameras as the department has not yet begun using them. The department has, however, ordered them, he said.

When asked whether the issue of racial profiling makes the chiefs feel uncomfortable, VanDyke was quick to admit it does and said he feels that's why normalizing the discussion is important.

"Anything that we deal [with] as humans beings that we don't deal with on a daily basis — it's going to make you uncomfortable. It doesn't mean we shouldn't address it, or that being uncomfortable about talking about it is a bad thing," he said.

VanDyke, who's also a Youngstown State University and police academy instructor, said he's currently writing an academic paper on police reform.

"Most reforms don't catch hold, whether it be from a senior level pushed down or even those from the bottom up," he said. "The ones that do catch hold are brought about by society as a whole."

Simon said he hopes the coalition's collaborative vision for local police reform could be a model for the rest of the state.

"We've known that there have been problems with brutality in police departments. It doesn't mean we paint every department with the same brush — [or] our officers, because we know we have good officers and good police departments," he said. "Unless we get to a point of policy change, it will continue to happen. We go back to protests and riots.

"We're committing together to be a part of the solution," said New Bethel Pastor Kenneth Simon. "That might take some time ... but we want to be in this for the long haul."

The next town hall is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 1. The location has not been announced.

Organizers expect the next session will cover issues such as the creation of binding citizen review boards, independent investigations into police misconduct, fair union contracts and pre-hire and continued diversity training. Organizers said they expect to invite police union leadership.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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