FBI agent new chief
Plus, Akron withdraws wage appeal, taps more cops for street patrol this summer
|New Akron Police Chief James Nice (at podium) answers questions from reporters during a May 2 press conference. Also pictured are, from left, interim Chief Craig Gilbride, whom Nice succeeds, and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. Nice will begin his tenure with the city June 6.
|James Nice is now chief of the Akron Police Department.|
|Photos: Stephanie Kist|
The appointment of Nice, 56, is effective June 6. He is leaving a 26-year career with the FBI to take the helm of the Akron Police Department (APD).
“I believe ... that I’ve picked the best person,” Plusquellic said during a May 2 press conference introducing the new chief. “His heart is in it.”
Nice said during the press conference that being named APD chief is “the thing I’m most proud of in my life. This is a big deal to me.”
The new chief said he brings no political agenda to the position. First on his list upon starting his new position will be to examine shift scheduling and to concentrate on boosting morale in the department. He does plan to attend roll call, and he said whether or not he will wear a uniform is still up in the air.
“I would only wear a uniform if the officers thought I should and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Nice is not a sworn officer in the state of Ohio, and one of many things to be seen in the coming months is whether he will complete that licensing through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.
Currently, Nice serves as chief of undercover and sensitive operations at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and directs all undercover operations for the FBI in the United States and overseas. Five years ago, he sought an assignment in the Cleveland FBI office in order to be closer to his father during an illness. During that time, he went undercover for 18 months in a gang operation involving federal authorities, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Akron police.
“Without exaggeration,” Nice stated in a city press release, “the men and women of the Akron Police Department who worked with me on that case were among the most professional officers I have ever served with in 26 years. The people of Akron are lucky to have law enforcement that works together better than any place I have ever seen.”
During the press conference, Nice, while indicating morale seems low among APD officers, spoke positively about the department.
“I think the police department’s working very well,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s broken in the police department.”
He said he wants to meet with Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 7 President Paul Hlynsky soon.
Nice also spoke to the sometimes difficult relationship between officers and members of the community and said he will hold the citizens of Akron in high regard.
“They’re the end users of the police department,” he said.
Plusquellic reiterated during the press conference that this was the first time he looked outside Akron in hiring a civil servant. There was some unrest in the APD and its union stemming from Plusquellic’s hiring of a chief from outside the department.
The mayor said he was seeking someone who could bring in best practices from outside Akron, be forward looking in terms of technology and provide a certain kind of leadership.
He called on the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which recently completed a management study of the APD. PERF made recommendations to improve operations and also conducted meetings with residents to get broad input into defining the kind of chief Akron wanted and needed.
There were three final candidates for the position. One withdrew early on, and a second withdrew recently, Plusquellic said.
Nice graduated from Kenmore High School (Plusquellic, who is five years older, said he didn’t know Nice during his own upbringing in Kenmore) and served in the U.S. Navy for four years. He graduated from The University of Akron with a degree in education, then taught school in Plano, Texas, and earned a master’s degree from East Texas State University. He earned an MBA from the University of Dallas.
He said during a May 2 press conference that he is unmarried and has no children. His girlfriend is a teacher in the Akron Public Schools, and he owns a home in Coventry.
Nice succeeds Craig Gilbride, who returned from retirement to serve the city on an interim basis following the departure of Chief Gus Hall, who retired Nov. 30. The APD has been without a permanent chief since late 2008, when Michael Matulavich retired from the position.
Nice has a four-year contract with the city. According to city officials, his salary has not been set, but Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson said the salary range for police chief currently is $101,941 to $113,922.
The city announced Nice’s appointment late in the afternoon of April 29, and at the same time announced two other major developments related to the APD.
First, it was announced the city is dropping its appeal of a conciliator’s report issued earlier this year. The conciliator awarded a wage increase in the amount of 4.5 percent over the next two years, an amount city officials said Akron cannot afford. While the report was to be binding and final, the city appealed, which Plusquellic said was a move to which the city was legally entitled.
The mayor had this to say in a prepared statement:
“I believe that legally the appeal was properly filed, and that it was filed with the appropriate intention of protecting the taxpayers of Akron by preventing safety force layoffs and further financial hardship for the city. ... Although the wage increases in this unprecedented decision are clearly not practicable given the state of the economy, the city’s already lean budget, and the proposed decimation of the Local Government Fund, I believe the appeal is no longer in the city’s best interest.”
Plusquellic said the term “final and binding” means “something specific in legal procedure” but that he concluded “the common understanding” of the term by nonlegal professionals should apply.
“In order to fund the wage increases, I will do my best to seek out additional savings within the city and implement every practical cost-cutting measure,” Plusquellic continued. “I will also continue to lobby against Senate Bill 5, and against the proposed drastic cuts to the Local Government Fund. Hopefully, these efforts will prevent layoffs now, but we will have to determine that later in the year as we track all of the city’s sources of revenue and keep working to cut expenses.”
The second announcement by the city is that a tentative agreement has been forged between the city and the FOP whereby dozens of additional police officers will patrol city streets this summer.
The staffing agreement calls for the transfer of officers to patrol shifts and will increase the number of police in Akron neighborhoods throughout the summer.
The tentative agreement must be voted on by the FOP. If approved, patrol shifts would see an increase in the number of officers during the busy summer months, when calls to police dispatchers increase by roughly 40 percent, according to city officials. These changes are for the summer months only.
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