The National Civic League is excited to announce that Dayton, Ohio is the 2022 All-America City Hall of Fame Inductee. A four-time All-America City (1951, 1978, 1991, 2017), Dayton is being recognized for its resident engagement surrounding a 2020-2021 Police Reform Initiative.
After the murder of George Floyd and centuries of structural racism and strained relationships between police and people of color, Dayton residents began calling for local police reform.
Nationally, Black and low-income individuals disproportionately have negative interactions with police, and that’s true in Dayton as well, where 38% of the population is Black and 30% is low-income (Census Bureau). 2019 survey data show that 56% of citizens are satisfied with the police department, though white residents who have had contact with officers are more likely than Black residents to believe police are respectful (75% vs. 69%). More problematic, only 28% of Black residents (vs. 60% of whites) agree that police treat all citizens equally.
In response to this community-driven movement, Dayton City Commissioners created the Police Reform Initiative, a comprehensive years-long engagement process involving over 100 citizens, police, community partners, and city leadership. To address community needs, five working groups began meeting in 2020 to develop a suite of recommendations based on research, best practices, and lived experiences. Working Groups included:
- Citizen Oversight
- Use of Force
- Officer Training
- Community Engagement
- Police Force Diversity
From the beginning, the city’s goal was to make the reform process both equitable and empowering through intentional civic engagement. The unique police reform structure sought to elevate Black and brown voices, attempting to place historically marginalized community members on equal footing with the police in the policymaking process.
Starting with the five Working Groups, the city took a “bottom-up” vs “top-down” approach in recruitment efforts. As opposed to relying on the same pool of community members that have been at engagement tables over the past couple decades, the city actively recruited people who were critics or had never been at the table before. City staff first reached out to Black Daytonians, then to Black regional leaders to participate in the process. An organizer was also hired by the city to help identify new, grassroots community leaders, who in turn invited other residents to the table too. Utilizing this organic approach helped to keep ideas fresh and empowered new community members to step up and believe that their input would be realized in the community.
Working Group members came from all walks of life: many were long-time Dayton residents, others were practitioners, and some even had years of policy and research experience. This diversity of experience allowed for a holistic conversation on policy recommendations, bringing to light important nuances that otherwise may have been missed.
Not only did the city make an intentional effort to include Black voices in the working groups, but it also ensured that they were represented in the leadership of working groups. All five Working Groups were co-chaired by a Black community leader. Each Working Group was also co-chaired by a Dayton City Commissioner, allowing all group members to have direct access to decisionmakers while formulating policy solutions.
The Working Groups were supported by community partners in several ways. For instance, Montgomery County Public Defenders were assigned to each of the five Working Groups. These attorneys provided insight into the defendant experience and highlighted disproportionate impacts in the justice system, especially for juveniles. This added layer broadened the conversation and caused Working Group members, including the police, to think more comprehensively about how police policy extends far beyond individual police interactions.
Additionally, a trained Dayton Mediation Center specialist was assigned to each Working Group to help navigate challenging topics and ensure equity in conversation. This innovative approach created a safe space for members to show up authentically, share their views, and keep balance. In addition, University of Dayton law students and City staff provided each Working Group with research support and resources. Communities across the country were also sought out to share their policing models and best practices, oftentimes joining Working Group meetings via Zoom to share their perspectives.
As trust between members continued to build, the reform structure created a collaborative environment where group members felt empowered to share research and lived experiences within their group.
For instance, while discussing best practices around an Alternative Response Model for non-violent 911 calls, Community Engagement Working Group members highlighted their concerns about the model, citing racial and economic differences between Dayton and comparison cities. As the proposal language was drafted, these concerns were reflected, capturing community member expertise. Thanks to community input generated during this process, Dayton’s Alternative Response Model recommendation specifically calls out the need to have culturally sensitive alternative responders that represent the communities they serve.
The Working Group recommendation phase concluded in April 2021 and resulted in 142 total recommendations, which can be found on the City’s Implementation Tracker. Although not enough time has passed for all major recommendations to be implemented and evaluated out in the community, the process is showing early signs of increased equity outcomes for residents and the city organization, with additional improvements expected for years to come.
Additionally, Working Group recommendations heavily impacted racial equity goals for other community boards, city staffing, and decision-making bodies. For instance, the newly created Community Appeals Board, designed to hear citizen appeals of Professional Standards Bureau internal investigations, is now representative of citywide demographics. The Oversight Working Group recommended racial parity in the membership of this group, and of the six board members, three are Black. Additionally, the city’s new Alternative Response team is representative of the community, with two of five staff members identifying as Black, two identifying as Hispanic, and one identifying as white. A new Use of Force Committee tasked with reviewing police policy has seven members, five of whom are Black. Finally, recruitment goals have been set for the police department so that the police force will match Montgomery County’s Black population in 10 years and will match the City of Dayton’s Black population in 15 years. By achieving equity in these spaces, the city expects to see equity in policing outcomes for residents in the next few years and for decades beyond, especially for Black and brown residents.
Stemming from collaboration during the reform process, the Public Defender’s Office, Dayton Police, community organizations, and the city are now offering “Know Your Rights” community training sessions on a regular basis. These innovative sessions provide accessible and relevant information to residents on constitutional rights and how to safely engage with the police.
The city also recruited the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board to collaborate on innovative strategies for serving residents experiencing mental health crises, drug addiction, and other non-violent calls for service. Recognizing the need to provide crisis stabilization and mediated support services in the community, the city created a Mediation Response Unit (MRU) that complements the county’s new Crisis NOW mental health services. The MRU, staffed by unarmed mediation specialists, will handle non-violent calls to 911 that require conflict resolution and connection to community resources. Crisis NOW is a new county-wide “988” option for those experiencing a mental health crisis and in need of stabilization services.
Civic engagement has continued beyond the recommendation phase and into the city’s Long-Term Accountability Structure. After sunsetting the Working Groups and recommendation phase in April 2021, the city transitioned its engagement model to focus on accountability and continuous monitoring. With the creation of six new permanent groups, these citizen-led bodies provide continuous quality improvement feedback on police policy in perpetuity. Two of the groups are directly appointed by the City Commission, and all groups will provide updates and reports to the city organization and broader community.
By utilizing trusted voices and partners, Dayton re-imagined what community engagement looks like.
Dayton Ohio is the fifth Hall of Fame Award Inductee. The National Civic League created the All-America City - Hall of Fame Award in 2019 to celebrate the ongoing work of past All-America Cities. The award recognizes communities that have implemented a community-driven initiative that resulted in significant local impact due to community engagement.
Submissions are evaluated based on the National Civic League’s civic infrastructure measurement tool, the Civic Index. Applicants must show that the community initiative featured a Shared Vision, Civic Engagement, Inclusiveness and Equity, Collaboration, Innovation, and Impact.
For more information about the award and past winners, visit: https://www.nationalcivicleague.org/america-city-award/hall-of-fame/