Newsletter Feature

PROFILES IN SERVICE

Akron Police Chief Hosts Sweden's Minister of Justice

Akron’s Police Department welcomed Beatrice Ask, Sweden’s Minister of Justice, to its offices on Memorial Day, May 28, 2007. Akron’s Chief of Police, Michael T. Matulavich, led a round table discussion with her and other attendees that contrasted policing challenges in the Akron area with those in Sweden.

Ms. Ask also rode with Sgt. Daniel J. Caprez for an hour while he covered his district, asking him about Akron policing procedures. I was invited to attend both of these.

Ms. Ask, as Sweden’s Minister for Justice, has oversight over her country’s police forces, the prison system, the courts and all related areas. Chief Matulavich manages Akron’s force of some 445 officers who daily must take appropriate action in a wide range of circumstances.

During the discussion, Ms. Ask and Chief Matulavich identified commonalities and differences. One commonality was training for policemen, with emphasis on officers verbally defusing potential crisis situations, especially in domestic disputes or where breaking the law seemed a possibility, combined with ongoing surveillance and intervention to prevent criminal activity.

On her ride with Sgt. Caprez, she joined him and other officers who questioned three individuals of interest. One was a woman suspected of soliciting for prostitution. Two others were young men on the street in a section of Akron where drug dealing is common. In both situations, the officers combined asking the individuals for personal information, and going into some detail on what had drawn police attention, including suggesting guidelines on staying within the law with their behavior and activities. In both instances, this was conducted by the officers in a methodical and relaxed manner. In addition to such street surveillance, officers handle 20-30 calls on their 8 hour shifts.

In her conversation with Chief Matulavich, Ms. Ask inquired about Akron’s most challenging problems. He told her that shrinking dollars left his force under strength, with his having to rely on overtime to meet policing goals for Akron. He said, in his opinion, drug dealers are today’s terrorists, whether in Akron or anywhere else. He acknowledged the need for federal dollars to flow to Homeland Security but believes that federal dollars also need to be allocated to local police forces facing the escalating drug challenge.

Besides the effects on drug users, dealers employ youth as young as 12 to handle distribution and are always armed, with potential for violence. He said that Akron has had some success in combating drug crime, notably in ridding the city of Hell’s Angels, the prime distributor of methamphetamine on a global basis.

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Akron Chief of Police, Michael T. Matulavich, meets with Beatrice Ask, Sweden’s Minister of Justice. (Photo by Donald Frost, Akron Police Department)

Photo: Jane Walker Snider

His account of this led to another commonality with Sweden, the need for police and the justice system to rely on social services to step in and manage families associated with drug trafficking. In Akron this meant breaking up the Hell’s Angels support system where families of imprisoned men are taken care of by the Angels. Diverting these families to Akron’s social services effectively isolated the criminal leaders.

Gangs was another primary topic. Chief Matulavich deplored the change in Akron from the 1950s when more children had secure family bases and could go to schools without policemen in the halls and without metal detectors. He does believe that Akron’s new school dress code will help defuse some potentially dangerous situations of overt gang rivalry. He commended the involvement of citizen groups that work with his department to share their community values. These are reviewed for possible addition to his department’s mission statement.

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Sgt. Daniel J. Caprez shows Beatrice Ask his computer connection to Akron's Safety Forces Information System. The screen sorts calls to dispatchers by degree of urgency: red, yellow or green. Requests for specific car responses are provided here and, if urgent, supplemented by radio contact to officers.

Photo: Jane Walker Snider

Ms. Ask discussed some significant differences and challenges in Swedish policing. Sweden dismantled its mental hospitals, resulting in many drug users being released into the streets. Swedish police have to go to emergency rooms to control users who are taken there for intervention.

Two areas where she believes that Sweden has made significant progress are speeding and intoxicated drivers. For the first, Sweden has recently “inflated” the cost of tickets to the same level of “pain” of years ago, reducing the incidence of these. For the second, intoxicated drivers are taken directly from arrest into treatment.

Sgt. Daniel J. Caprez interviews a young man while Beatrice Ask looks on. Akron's Compulsory High School attendance law was the reason for the interview. If the young man had been high school age, he would have been transported to juvenile hall and a call made to parents or guardian.

Photo: Jane Walker Snider

A parallel problem, however, is that more and more drivers are on drugs. Chief Matulavich responded that Akron adds random stops of motorists to each police officer’s schedule, set up at times when the anticipated crime incidence is lower. They do this on a rotation count of every so many cars so people cannot complain they are being singled out. The expanded benefit of this is surveillance for criminal activity. “After all”, he said, “drug dealers drive cars”.

In their discussion, Chief Matulavich and Ms. Ask agreed that dealing with juveniles is no better than a holding action. One group moves on and a younger group comes into the system. Chief Matulavich’s estimate was that Akron has to intervene at age nine or ten, when problems are observed, in order to forestall eventual delinquency. Worse, he and Ms. Ask agreed, the context of these problems keep changing with society; and police departments and the justice system have to work together to update their approaches.

Both pointed to such societal influences as adults who want to be teenagers rather than parents, corruption in business filling the news, and tv shows that promote sexuality. The basic problem, Chief Matulavich said is that the “rising tide raises all boats”. With each advancement in policing and the justice system, criminals adapt.

One program Chief Matualvich commends is Akron’s Compulsory Attendance. Any teen observed on the street during the school day is taken to juvenile hall and taken to school where parents are to pick them up. Depending on the circumstances, they may also be taken to court and kept under supervisions while the parents are called.

Ms. Ask asked how Akron protects its officers on duty. Chief Matulavich outlined a composite of approaches:

  • Verbal judo, the department’s term of an officer’s use of language that manages and defuses situations;
  • Body armor — Akron was the first in the State of Ohio to introduce the taser control instrument, which can be used from 25 feet and deliver a 5 second low shock
  • Working closely with social service agencies and juvenile authorities to refer people as appropriate
  • Ongoing training, beginning with a 26 weeks course
  • Emphasis on ethics, including handling serious lapses in the police force quickly and effectively
  • Response to citizen complaints about any officer

Community diversity, including undocumented workers or refugees was discussed. This has little impact in the Akron community at this time.

“In Sweden”, Ms. Ask said, “thousands of Iraqi refugees have been accepted. Serving and managing this group, along with those coming earlier from the Balkans and Somalia and southern Europe is challenging.” Sweden’s generous welfare program combined with different societal traditions has proved problematic in getting more of these individuals to work, even given her country’s formal work programs.

She said that various types of crime have also risen. She believes, however, that the EU will eventually arrive at some commonality in asylum policies so that broader responsibility can be assumed for refugee groups in these countries.

The ride with Sgt. Daniel J. Caprez provided contrast with two Akron areas. Within 20 or more blocks, we saw depressed areas where drug dealing is common. Most houses are run down or completely abandoned. These heavy drug areas, Sgt. Caprez said, are on a “time-line” of eventual extinction, as hospitals in the area expand and a new medical corridor of manufacturing and services displaces them.

One call while Ms. Ash was riding with Sgt. Caprez was a domestic dispute. After he drove us to the housing development and investigated, he told us that the circumstances were typical. A woman was angry that the father of her child was living with another woman in the complex, and she broke some windows.

He said so many families in his coverage area are dysfunctional. Problems peak in the summer when families get together and then have fights. “Christmas”, he said, “is the worst when such families feel they need to make an effort and then are unable to carry it off. That is when you’ll find everything from Christmas trees to gifts to furniture thrown out into front yards during these disputes.”

The information about the dispute was provided to Sgt. Caprez through his in-car computer notices managed by Akron’s Safety Forces Information System. This system provides on-going updates on requests for officers, across the city, and is supplemented by additional information on his radio, if required. This system is the clearinghouse for all requests for response from Akron’s safety forces network, including the fire department, EMS and the Combined Centralized Communication Center — a total of 450 work stations throughout the city delivering these services. (See related article, Akron's Safety Forces Network Monitors City 24/7.)

Near the end of our drive, Sgt. Caprez told us he was driving us to Akron’s newest success in urban renewal, termed the “Under the Bridge” project, financed with low interest loans under FHA-235. This was previously the site of a crime-ridden project known as Elizabeth Park. The transformation is total, with modern houses, in attached rows of two or three or on individual lots.

This day had begun with a clear summer sky. The sunlight accentuated the well designed houses and the care the owners are taking of their properties. “I have never had a call from here since this change,” Sgt. Caprez said, as he drove us back to downtown Akron and police headquarters.

Beatrice Ask

Minister of Justice, Sweden

Beatrice Ask trained in international economics at the University of Uppsala. Prior to that, Beatrice Ask spent a year as a high school exchange student in Akron, Ohio in 1974.

Beatrice Ask has been very involved in politics since her youth. In 1984, she was the first woman to be elected chair of the Moderate Party youth organisation, serving in that position for four years.

In 1988, Beatrice Ask was appointed City Commissioner in Stockholm with responsibility for schools and education.

After the 1991 election, Beatrice Ask was appointed Minister for Schools and Adult Education at the Ministry of Education and Science, where she was a driving force behind the groundbreaking introduction of school vouchers for primary and secondary education.

In 1994, Beatrice Ask was elected to the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament), serving there until 2006. During her time there, Beatrice Ask was first a Member of the Committee on Education and then a Member of the Committee on Justice, the War Delegation and the Committee on European Union Affairs as well as Deputy Chair of the Nominations Committee. She was also the Moderate Party Spokesperson on Education, and then the Party Spokesperson on Justice Affairs. She was also a Member of the Executive Board of the Moderate Party.

From 2003 to 2006, Beatrice Ask was a Member of the National Police Board.

After the election in 2006, Beatrice Ask was appointed Minister for Justice and head of the Ministry of Justice.

Beatrice Ask is 51 years old and has two children.

Michael Matulavich

Chief of Police, City of Akron, Ohio

Mike Matulavich was sworn in as the twelfth Chief of the Akron Police Department on December 29, 2000.  He had served as the interim Chief since June 2000 due to Chief Irvine’s retirement.

Akron’s 461 Officers, 56 Reserves and 49 Civilians serve a community of 217,000 citizens over an area of 62 square miles.

Chief Matulavich, a forty year veteran of the department, advanced through the ranks, and as Deputy Chief, commanded each of the department’s three sub-divisions: Investigative, Services and Uniform.

Chief Matulavich is a strong proponent of problem solving policing.  In September 2001, he implemented a Steering Committee to develop a long-range crime control plan for the City of Akron.  He also instituted the first Police Information Officer position in 2002 to further enhance the department’s relationship with the media and citizens.

Mike is a graduate of Hammel Business College, the F.B.I. National Academy, the Southern Police Institute and the Police Executive Leadership College.

Chief Matulavich was born and raised in Akron and has been married to his wife Pat for forty-five years.  They have three grown children, three grandsons (triplets) and one granddaughter.  His son-in-law is also a member of the Akron Police Department.

 

All photos copyright © 2007 Jane Walker Snider

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Akron's Safety Forces Network Monitors City 24/7

In the Information System’s dispatch center the beat goes on 24 hours a day. More than 390,000 calls are processed annually. Thefts. Highway accidents. Heart attacks. Fires. Calls from people directly involved or eye witnesses.

Every city resident is a potential partner in communicating need for response by Akron’s safety forces network: police, firemen, or EMS. This network has 1200 user accounts throughout Akron, set up on 450 work stations which are monitored 24 hours a day in order to dispatch appropriate teams quickly …

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RIDE WITH AKRON POLICE

How to Apply to Ride with Akron Patrol Officers

Application forms are available at Akron Police Headquarters, 217 South High Street, Downtown Akron, Ohio.

During 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. office hours, go to Patrol Operations, room 511. During other hours, check with the Shift Supervisor on the main floor for a form.

The application must include presentation of a photo ID. Applicant must have no prior felony convictions or pending warrants. This is checked at the time of application.

Those wanting to ride must apply at least 15 minutes before any one of the patrol shifts.

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