Hello, Cuyahoga Falls – it’s Mayor Don Walters. I have spent the better part of the last week doing a lot of reading about and reflecting on the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It has taken me time to find the words to respond appropriately to what is happening, and even as I speak to you now, I am fully aware that words are not sufficient. Unequivocally, the killing of George Floyd is inexcusable, and his family and so many more deserve justice. I also know that this goes far beyond the killing of George Floyd. I have also been listening to and reflecting on experiences of African Americans both locally and across our country and the systemic racism that continues to exist in our culture. We have a lot of work to do.
We need to take time to entrench ourselves in the uncomfortable conversations and take an in-depth look at our unconscious biases so that we can do the work that is necessary to address them. We need to recognize that being black or brown does not constitute being a suspicious person warranting a call to our police departments. We need to realize that our diverse cultures celebrate religious and life events in different ways, and all add incredible value to who we are as a community. We need to do better for our fellow Americans. We pride ourselves on the strength of our neighborhoods. I urge each of you to get to know each other better, share our life stories, and work to understand our diverse cultures on a deeper level. Over the past few years, I have been holding FYI, Front Yard Interaction meetings in neighborhoods across our city. They have opened up lines of communication between neighbors and have allowed us at city hall to discuss programs, services, and issues. Real change only happens at the grassroots level, and I am willing to personally do the work to promote love, understanding, and respect for all people in Cuyahoga Falls. Moving forward, we will intentionally be adding discussions on diversity, acceptance, and inclusion to these meetings to open dialogue about what and how we can do better.
These meetings have been on hold due to COVID-19 and Health Department regulations on mass gatherings, but we would like to start conducting them online until we can all be together again. If you would like to host one of these meetings in your neighborhood, I ask that you contact our Neighborhood Excellence, Communications, and Community Outreach Department at NECCO@cityofcf.com or by calling 330.971.8208. I am looking forward to these conversations.
Our system is far from perfect, but I want to let you know about some of the measures being taken by our Cuyahoga Falls Police Department to ensure that our officers have sufficient training. Annually, our department has met all of the Ohio Collaborative Standards. The Ohio Collaborative is a 12-person panel of law enforcement experts and community leaders from throughout the state that established state standards for Police work. Our Officers have all received training in racial discrimination and implicit bias. We have policies and procedures that prohibit racial profiling and discrimination and guide us on the application of force and de-escalation techniques that are reviewed annually. We have integrated a national policy and procedure manual system that includes daily training bulletins that officers are required to read and be tested on. Please know that complaints against our officers can be filed online or in-person; every complaint is investigated and reviewed with the administrative staff and law department. Our department continues to have open discussions and assessments with our officers and supervisors on national police incidents to work through what can be learned from these tragedies so that appropriate changes and adjustments can be made to ensure that they do better. Our command staff meets on a regular basis to review our department’s policies, procedures, and performance. As I stated before, our system is not perfect, but we are working to find new ways to continue to improve it.
Let me be clear. Racism has no place here in the City of Cuyahoga Falls. We remain committed to increasing and embracing diversity and inclusion in the greater Akron area. To our African American community members, I want you to know that I see you and I hear you. I will continue reading, listening, and learning. My door and the door of our Police Chief Jack Davis is always open, and I look forward to continuing and strengthening a community dialogue that has been needed for far too long. We live by the motto, “life is better here,” and we are committed to making that true for each and every person who lives in and visits Cuyahoga Falls. Thank you.