Monday, January 14, 2008

Police Auditor delivers compassion with crititques

I had a nice chat today with Phillip Young, Akron's new Police Auditor. He's been on the job about 90 days now, so I thought it would be good to do a sit-down interview for the evening news (look for the story later this week).

Young's persona is much like you'd expect from a career state trooper. He's soft-spoken but direct, personal, and professional. He has excellent listening skills and the kind of genuine eye contact you'd expect from OHP.

The overall impression you walk away with is that Young hears you. He may not agree with your complaint or be able to solve your problem, but you'll have no problem communicating.

That's a big key. Young tells me that many of the complaints he reviews focus on communicating. The words an officer chose or the body language the officer gave out during their interaction with a citizen can lead to miscommunication or even hurt feelings -- and that can lead to formal complaints.

Young tells me that he reviews about 20-25 citizen complaints each week plus all use-of-force and taser reports. He reviews them for trends and procedural issues. I don't get the impression that Young's looking to pass judgement on whether the officer on the report was right or wrong, but rather he's looking to see if there's a change or modification to APD's policies and procedures that might be worth revisiting.

He also becomes the "voice of reason" for some folks who just want more explanation. For example, Young tells me that yesterday he spent more than an hour with a local father and his teen son. They'd come in to complain about an incident involving the teen and police. Long story short, after sitting and chatting with Young, the teen confessed to some additional details of which his father hadn't been aware .. and the dad was able to leave with his son knowing that the officers had been in the right. Again, it comes down to communication. Doesn't it almost always?
I don't get the impression that Young's out to make change just for the sake of making change or as some way to justify his job. He expects that by mid-summer, a plan that would add auditing the Summit County Sheriff's Office will probably be back on the table for discussion.

Young hopes to make a positive impact with an upcoming Public Service Announcement asking for citizens to call in when they see officers do something good.

He also hopes that people learn where to find him. He's on the 6th floor of the City Center Building, and his phone number is 330-375-2705 (although Young says that when people call 311 looking for him, the operators never know where to send the calls.)

Still, it will take time for Akron's finest to reach a comfort level with a new watchdog in their yard. I mean, how would you react to someone from the outside auditing your work? Probably skeptical -- at least at first.

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