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Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins Continues Interview Process For Akron Job

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins is one of four finalists looking to become Akron, Ohio's next police chief. He participated Thursday evening in a virtual forum with residents and officials there.

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Credit Will Anderson / WAMC
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WAMC
(July 30, 2018) Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan introduces Chief Eric Hawkins, her choice to lead the police department.

Hawkins has been in law enforcement for more than three decades and served as Southfield, Michigan Police Chief prior to Mayor Kathy Sheehan appointing him to head Albany's police force in August 2018. He is the city's second Black chief.

Akron, Ohio Police Chief Ken Ball retired in February. Cleveland.com reports his 2020 salary was in the $140,000 range, slightly less than Hawkins' $145,000. The other finalists, all white, are Chris Davis, deputy chief of the Portland Police Bureau in Oregon, Steve Mylett, Chief of the Bellvue Police Department in Washington, and recently retired Philadelphia PD deputy commissioner Joseph Sullivan.

Akron's situation today is much like Albany's was when Hawkins became chief: officials say the city, about twice the size of Albany, faces significant challenges related to violent crime, as well as strained police-community trust.  Appearing on a virtual forum with three other candidates for Akron Chief, Hawkins explained his interest in joining the department.

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins fields reporters' questions at police HQ.
Credit Periscope
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(June 19, 2020) Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins fields reporters' questions at police HQ.

"I'm intrigued with the city of Akron because Akron is very similar to the cities that I've had an opportunity to serve as chief of police. Aggressive, diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, with elected officials who value and promote, indeed embrace these concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, and police departments that are going through this reform and transformation and reimagining process, a process that is much more challenging now, because it must occur amid this devastating convergence of stressors that we're seeing in our urban areas. Things like a an alarming increase in violent crimes that we're seeing in some of our cities. Relations between our police departments and members of our minority communities that has degraded. And recruitment and retention issues, you know, we're not doing enough in law enforcement to market our industry to our young people that our perspective recruits and future police officers, and we're not doing nearly enough to retain those who are already here."

In a resume Hawkins sent Akron in April, the 53-year old said that he would be a reform-minded and community-oriented chief, essentially what he promised when he arrived in Albany.  

His concern for the community came under scrutiny in the spring 2019 when he and other high-ranking police and city officials learned via Facebook about an incident on First Street, captured on body cam, in which Albany officers got into a physical confrontation with a man that resulted in the arrest of one police officer and the suspension of two others.

Questions also arose over Hawkins’ absence from the city during the May 2020 riot sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as well as the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors.

The Akron forum included questions submitted by residents, including "Is it important to you to live in the city where you will have oversight of this police department?"

"When I was hired as the chief in Albany, I immediately moved to Albany. It's critically important that that happens. It's like what some of the other candidates had mentioned. It's the symbolism of it. It's the messaging that that we send. And it absolutely if if I'm the chief in Akron, I'll absolutely move to the city of Akron."

(April 22, 2021) Albany Police cleared protestors from an encampment outside South Station.
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC
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WAMC
(April 22, 2021) Albany Police cleared protestors from an encampment outside South Station.

In Albany Hawkins also faced criticism for his role this spring in clearing Black Lives Matter activists from the streets surrounding South Station, ending a six-day protest outside the police department.

Curiously, during the forum, Hawkins was not among finalists who were asked "Do you support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a national police reform bill that could make vast changes nationally if passed?"

As law enforcement agencies across the country struggle to attain diversity in their ranks, Hawkins was asked to share his strategy for recruiting minorities into the police department.

"I think my personal opinion is that this reform and reimagining process that communities across the country, including Akron are going through right now, is going to change the game in terms of the recruitment, particularly of minorities and to police in police work. Because what this does, it signals to these young African American men and women that things are different. Akron produced a formal document about reform in the community. Albany produced a formal document. Other communities are doing this and now these young African American men and women see that this is not their parents' police department."

When Akron media first reported Hawkins' was among four finalists interested in becoming chief, he and

"While the chief is incredibly important, a police department is about a leadership structure. We have an incredible command staff. We have hard working men and women in this department. They've been through changes and chiefs before. And you know, we'll see what happens." ~ Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Mayor Sheehan played the news down. Sheehan said she wasn't surprised that a member of her leadership team was being sought out by another agency. Hawkins said he did not have an offer of employment from another law enforcement agency and would continue to devote all of his time and energy to Albany.

But speaking to reporters earlier this week, Mayor Sheehan seemed to be signaling the Albany Police Department will have no trouble pressing on, without Hawkins.

"Look, you know, the only constant in a local government is that things are constantly changing. When you put together a great team, there are other people who want your team members on their team. And so, you know, police department, while the chief is incredibly important, a police department is about a leadership structure. We have an incredible command staff. We have hard working men and women in this department. They've been through changes and chiefs before. And you know, we'll see what happens. But I have confidence in this department, as we undertake, really reinventing and reimagining our police department and the work that we have ahead of us that we will have people in place will be able to do that."

 

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