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More accountability among council proposals for Akron police

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Akron City Council wants more resources for the city’s only independent police auditor and more public access to police records, from use of force reports to citizen complaints and logs that track the race of everyone stopped by police.

Those are among the recommendations to be released publicly on Monday by council’s special committee on Reimagining Public Safety. Members are trying to answer a community call for a police force that better reflects the demographics and lived experiences those it serves and protects following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year.

There would be no age limit for police cadets, which the city recently upped from 35 to 40 years. A new “Pathway to Law Enforcement” would ask community and education leaders to steer young adults into careers with the city and the Akron Police Department.

More so than they do now, social workers would help police handle 911 calls involving mental health and addiction. Officers would spend more time walking or biking their beats in an effort to build trust and understanding with the neighborhoods they police.

And council would keep up with the latest in law enforcement technology as city police deploy drones or consider feeding camera footage into crime-solving software that can scan faces and license plates, which would prompt leaders to weigh public safety against personal privacy.

Council President Margo Sommerville will present the full list of recommendations and special committee findings during council’s regular public meeting Monday. The 22-page document is the culmination of 22 subcommittee meetings, each averaging about an hour.

But the report is not the end of the road to “Reimagining Public Safety,” Sommerville explained. The end goal is “more equitable” policing systems and stronger bonds between police and the policed.

As he searches for a new police chief, Mayor Dan Horrigan and his deputy mayor for Public Safety, Charles Brown, express agreement with council in recognizing the best elements of policing in Akron while considering improvements outlined in the listed recommendations.

Next, Sommerville said council will take its newfound knowledge of policing in Akron to the public and rank-and-file officers.

University of Akron President Gary L. Miller said he’s honored and excited that council has asked his faculty and students to develop a community engagement process of surveys and virtual town hall meetings. The information gathering process will solicit feedback from residents, officers and the police union, which as an organization was not given an opportunity to address council’s special committee.

“We know at the end of the day, when we really begin to finalize these recommendations, we’re going to need the Fraternal Order of Police (Lodge #7),” Sommerville said, pinning successful implementation of any reform or enhancement on the commitment of everyone impacted.

FOP President Clay Cozart will see the recommendations Monday. While continuing to disagree with the prominence given to police reform in the wake of Floyd’s death, Cozart said he’s watched every minute of the 22 meetings discussing the work of his members, and he appreciates Sommerville’s willingness to work with the union.

Informed by Akron police officers serving as “liaisons,” the special committee involving every member of council broke out into four working groups.

Police oversight

The Accountability and Transparency group, which met seven times, delved into issues of external oversight, officer discipline and public access to records, drawing on the expertise of police auditors, civilian review board members and national experts on the subject from coast to coast.

Background: Who polices Akron police? Auditor says his office is understaffed, under-resourced

“In our society, we entrust police with the critical responsibility of protecting public safety, including by using force, if necessary,” the working group concluded. “External oversight recognizes that the seriousness of this delegated power requires particular scrutiny in order to ensure that the rights of the public are protected. On both a national and local level, historic injustices have created a trust deficit in how the public, particularly communities of color, interact with law enforcement, and government more broadly. Community trust is essential for effective policing.”

The group settled on two formal recommendations:

  1. Give Akron Police Auditor Phil Young, who answers to the mayor, a role codified in city law with “sufficient authority to access information, adequate staffing and funding and independence from the political process.”
  2. Ensure “that more police data and information is made publicly-available online and updated on a regular basis.”

Prevention

The prevention working group discussed community policing and best practices around responding to mental health, addiction and other 911 calls that can end tragically for officers and citizens.

While identifying funding as the greatest barrier to more robust training, the group recommended that every officer undergo Crisis Intervention Team training. Currently, 76% of officers lack the 40-hour training.

More: Akron’s police chief to retire in 2021

To “help solidify stronger relationships between police officers and the communities they diligently patrol and serve,” the group also recommended more walking and biking for beat cops, something previous councils and mayors have tried to achieve.

The final recommendation recommended a shifting, or at least sharing, of the burden of solving society’s problems, which armed officers encounter daily.

There’s some appetite for the concept, even among officers. Police1, an online source of information and resources for law enforcement, surveyed 4,000 American officers for a special report called “What Cops Want in 2021.” Officers named serving their community as the top reason for becoming officers. They also ranked the types of 911 calls they’d rather see other agencies handle: housing for homeless people (93%), animal control (88%), nuisance abatement (64%), parking enforcement (61%) and dispute mediation (53%), responding to mental health crises (45%) and drug overdoses (29%).

“Throughout our working group meetings, there was a continuing discussion of whether it may be appropriate for social service agencies to respond to some 911 calls relating to mental health or other issues, the idea being that a social service-focused approach might be more effective in some cases, and could also free up APD to focus on issues that clearly need a police response,” the group concluded. “Our APD liaisons made clear that they believe there should be a police response to all calls, as situations are fluid and could endanger non-police responders.”

We also heard from the Police Chief in Alexandria, Kentucky, a small city south of Cincinnati, who described a program in which the department employs two social workers, who follow up on calls (and in some cases respond to calls where the scene is deemed safe).”

The group heard from a Kentucky police chief who sends social workers out on many calls, sometimes without an armed officer. They said Akron, as a community, should involve more social service providers on 911 calls, when “appropriate,” and expand programs where counselors and health professionals follow-up after the fact.

Personnel and culture

A third committee tackled hiring and staffing as commanders must take officers from their patrols to fill specialized units like Neighborhood Response Teams — the backbone of community policing in Akron — or Quick Response Teams that respond to overdoses.

The group recommended more ongoing training and identified potential problems with hiring like not testing for steroids in the screening process because it costs twice as much or disqualifying applicants because they have or lie about a history of bad credit or minor drug offenses.

Background: Akron police force struggles to reflect city’s diversity

To get a more diverse and broader pool of candidates, the group recommended abolishing the current 40-year maximum age for cadets, as other large cities have done.

They also recommended bringing back an Akron Urban League program that prepared candidates for the city’s civil service exam and the creation of a Pathway to Law Enforcement program.

The Pathway program would use neighborhood “figureheads” and public educators to recruit 18 year olds and hold their interest in becoming cops until they turn 21 and are allowed by state law to carry a firearm as a civil servant. For a couple years, they would get city jobs dealing with the public while earning criminal justice credentials through UA or Stark State.

The group added two suggestions: APD should update its mission statement “to include the need for a workforce that reflects community and the need for diversity” and bring in an outside group that would take confidential and “unvarnished opinions” of officers “that could provide constructive feedback for further institutional change.”

Technology and equipment

No formal recommendations, aside from getting a body-worn camera for every officer who interacts with the public, came out of the technology and equipment committee.

More: Akron is ‘Reimagining Public Safety’ with drones, diversity and license plate readers

This last group learned about policing gadgets and systems like unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), “less-lethal” weapons (tear gas, pepper spray, tasers) surplus military rifles and body-worn cameras.

City information technologists informed them of existing software that allows detectives to stake out drug houses or solve crimes by accessing 277 cameras mounted around the city on buildings, lights and traffic poles. The footage is recorded 24/7 and kept for 21 days. And they discussed emergent technology like Briefcam, a program of computer algorithms that scans faces and reads license plates then automatically generates turn-by-turn video of stolen cars or suspects.

“Going forward, it will be important to gauge public opinion about how cameras in public spaces should be used,” the committee cautioned. “With Ring doorbells and other consumer camera systems becoming ubiquitous, it may be that the public is willing to accept greater surveillance by police within public spaces. Still, there should be transparency and clear rules on what is and is not permitted.”

Reach reporter Doug Livingston at [email protected] or 330-719-1756

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3 credit habits that you need to break

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Are you using your credit card responsibly? Or do you have a few bad habits? Take a look at three common bad habits that people have with their credit cards and the best ways to stop doing them.

Habit 1: Pushing the limits

The first bad credit habit is pushing your outstanding balance close to its limit. What’s wrong with that? The first problem is that you’re giving yourself a larger debt load to contend with every month — one that accumulates interest the longer that it sits. It could be very difficult to pay down, and it could even lead to you maxing out your card.

The second problem with this habit is that it leaves you vulnerable to emergencies. You’ve taken up the majority of your available credit, so you can’t depend on it for unexpected payments. What if you need to pay for an urgent repair and there’s not enough room on your card? What can you do?

To avoid that difficult situation, you could apply for an online loan to help you cover the emergency costs and move forward. See how you can apply for an online loan in Ohio when you have no other safety nets to fall back on. It’s important that you only turn to this solution when you’re dealing with an emergency. It’s not for everyday purchases or small budgeting mistakes.

In the meantime, you should try your best to keep your credit utilization at 30% or lower — this means that your balance should be below the halfway point of your limit.

Habit 2: Paying the minimum

You pay your credit card bills on time, but you only give the minimum payment. While this habit can stop you from racking up late fees and penalties, it can still get you into hot water if you’re not careful.

Only paying the minimum for your bill will make it very difficult for you to whittle down the balance, especially when you’re continuing to charge expenses on your card. You’re only taking $20-$25 off a growing pile.

So, what can you do? If you’re paying this amount by choice, stop it — you’re only making things harder for yourself down the line. If you’re paying this amount because you don’t have any more funds, look at your budget to see whether you can cut your monthly costs to get more savings and use them to tackle your balance.

Habit 3: Using it for every single expense

You don’t need to put every single expense on your credit card. Your morning coffee? Your afternoon snack? Putting these small, everyday expenses on your card is a habit that can make your balance climb quickly.

You also don’t want to put some very important expenses on there, like mortgage payments. For one, these payments are large and will take up a significant amount of your credit. Secondly, if you need to use a credit card to make these payments on time, you need to reinvestigate your budget to see whether you can actually afford your living space.

So, what you should you do? Use a debit card, cash or checks to pay for the items above. Only put expenses on your credit card that you’re positive you can pay off in a reasonable timeframe.

Don’t let these bad habits drag you down and get you into financial trouble. Break them now, before it’s too late.

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Free credit reports have been extended; here’s why it’s important to check yours regularly

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Checking your credit could save you from identity theft. (iStock)

Typically, you’d be able to check your credit report — at least for free — just once annually through each of the three major credit reporting agencies. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, credit reports are now more accessible than ever.

Credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all offering  free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022.

The move means better insight into your financial health during what, for most, is an economically challenging time. According to experts, it might also be a time that’s ripe for at-risk personal information and identity theft, too — even more reason consumers should be checking their credit on the regular.

HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR CREDIT SCORE CHANGE?

Have you checked your annual credit lately? If not, here’s what you need to know about these free nationwide credit reports and how to get them. If you’re not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum, you may want to start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.

Free credit reports for all?

The nation’s three credit bureaus initially started offering free weekly credit reporting last year, just after the pandemic began. In early March, they announced they’d extended the offer for another year, this time through April 20, 2022.

To request your free credit reports and access copies, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com and provide some basic information to verify your identity (things like your date of birth, Social Security Number, and address).

Once your report is ready, you should see a detailed list of all open and closed accounts in your name, your payment history, recent credit activity and more.

5 BENEFITS OF HAVING A GOOD CREDIT SCORE

Protect yourself from identity theft

There are many reasons why checking your credit activity is important, but chief among them? That’d be the prevalence of data breaches in today’s world — not to mention the risk of identity theft they come with.

“In the past, it was perfectly acceptable for people to check their credit history once a year, but now with security breaches happening on a regular basis, consumers should be monitoring their credit more closely than ever,” said Clint Lotz, president and founder of TrackStar.ai, a predictive credit technology firm.

Lotz said the Equifax breach — which exposed over 147 million Americans’ personal information in mid-July 2017 — is the perfect example of why watching your credit report is important as far as identity theft protection goes. The pandemic, he said, adds an extra layer of risk to things.

“It took them [Equifax] months before they even realized they had been hacked, and considering that they hold files on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s fair to say that many identities were stolen by the time they caught up to it,” Lotz said. “With many of us worrying about very serious issues not related to our credit, it’s a prime time for that stolen data to be put to work by bad actors in slow, methodical ways and in the hopes that nobody notices it.”

More reasons to check your credit

Checking your credit health often isn’t just good for detecting fraud alerts and to protect your identity, though. You can also monitor your report for errors — things like inaccurately reported late payments, for example — and then dispute those with the credit bureau.

If the error gets corrected, it could improve your credit score and make a jump from bad credit to a FICO score that’s more favorable. Not sure of your credit score? Head to Credible to check your score without negatively impacting it.

WHAT IS CREDIT MONITORING, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

You can also use your credit reports and scores to monitor your financial habits — like the timeliness of your payments or how much debt you have left to pay off. Both of these factors can play a big role in your score, as well as how likely you are to get approved for loans, credit cards and other items.

“If you’re taking out a loan, getting insurance or even applying for a new job, checking your credit will allow you to see an overview of what would be seen by others looking at your credit,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney with the Tayne Law Group. “Staying up-to-date on your credit reports and information allows you to know exactly where you need to improve.”

Want to be sure your credit is stellar before applying for a loan or insurance policy? Consider Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which lets you use positive payment history on utilities, streaming and other bills to improve your credit score.

Set up a monitoring service, too

Though checking your credit reports manually is smart, you should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These consumer financial services check your credit information and score regularly and alert you of any changes.

IS IT WORTH PAYING FOR CREDIT MONITORING?

If you’re interested in monitoring your credit or improving your score, head to Credible and learn more about how Experian can help. You can also use Experian Boost to get credit for on-time bill payments.

Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at [email protected] and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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Do Personal Loans Have Penalty APRs?

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

When you make your credit card payment late, you’re often subject to late fees and a penalty APR, which is a temporary spike in your interest rate.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, has a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR, but the penalty APR is a variable 29.99% (see rates and fees). Penalty APRs usually last for at least six months, but card issuers often reserve the right to extend them — especially when you continue making late payments. A look at the terms for the Citi® Double Cash Card show us that the “penalty APR may apply indefinitely.”

Penalty APRs are certainly not a trap you want to fall into, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about if you have a personal loan. Personal loan lenders can, however, charge late fees upwards of $39 per late payment. Whether your loan charges late fees all depends on how good of a loan you qualify for, and that comes down to your credit score, borrowing history and ability to make your payments.

Personal loans also tend to charge lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The average personal loan interest rate for two-year loans is currently 9.46% according to Q1 2021 data from the Federal Reserve, compared to 15.91% for credit cards.

Typically, interest rates for personal loans range between roughly 2.49% and 24%, but personal loans for applicants with bad credit can come with even higher APR — so do your research before applying.

Other common personal loan fees include:

  1. Interest: The monthly charge you pay to borrow money
  2. Origination fee: A one-time upfront charge that your lender subtracts from your loan to pay for administration and processing costs
  3. Late fee: A one-time fee charged for each payment that you fail to make by the due date or within your grace period
  4. Early payoff penalty: A fee incurred when you pay off your balance faster than planned (because the lender misses out on months of expected interest payments)

As you can see, personal loans can be costly, even without a penalty APR. It’s obviously best to avoid paying extra fees whenever possible. That’s easier to do when you have a good to excellent credit score, since you’ll qualify for better loan options.

Select has a free tool to help match you with personal loan offers without damaging your credit score.

None of the loans on our best personal loan list charge origination fees or early payoff penalties, but some may charge late fees.

Our top picks for best personal loans

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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