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Pawn and loan stores aren’t doing great in the Covid-19 economy

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Perry Lewin has been in the pawn industry for 28 years, but he’s never quite seen a year like this one. Sales have skyrocketed at his store, Decatur Jewelry and Antiques, in central Illinois. Early on in the pandemic, people were scooping up TVs, guitars, gaming systems, laptops, whatever they could to stay occupied and educated at home.

“We couldn’t keep a bicycle in the stock to save our life,” Lewin said. Tools were flying off the shelves, as many households decided it was the “perfect time for a honey-do list.” He estimates his gun and ammunition sales are up by 500 percent. “You know what it was like back in March and April, scared as hell,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean the pawn business has been good in 2020. Even the Pawn Stars pawn stars are struggling. This, at its core, is a money business, not a stuff business. The bread and butter is in loans.

“What happened is our inventory started depleting rapidly, and that was the result of consumers not needing the services of a pawnshop,” Lewin said, explaining that his central loan operation has been way down for much of 2020. “They were not bringing items in to us either to sell or get a loan on, but they were mining everything from us.”

Pawnshops are a longtime fixture in the capitalist economy — one pawnbroker told me pawning is the second-oldest industry in the world. (He asked me if I knew what the oldest was; I assured him I did.) But they remain relatively misunderstood by much of the public, especially those who don’t use their services.

I spoke with pawnbrokers across the country about what the business has been like in this unprecedented year, and the picture that emerged was a microcosm of the economy that flies under the radar for many. Pawnshops, which were deemed essential during the pandemic, experienced panic-buying trends — guitars, guns, and gold — in real time. They also felt the impact the CARES Act had in getting money into people’s pockets and small businesses’ cash registers because it meant people didn’t need their loans.

“We have loans where customers who have been with us for a very long time — 10 years, 20 years even — are now redeeming stuff completely, which they’ve never done before,” said Eric Modell, president of Modell Financial, which owns a chain of jewelry stores and pawnshops in New York. “And they don’t say, ‘I have money from the government, here I am,’ but 20 years you’ve been paying interest.”

But now that much of that support has ended, loans are ticking up again. People are heading back to the pawnshop.

Guitars, gold, and guns

When the pandemic hit, a lot of people had similar ideas on how to pass the time at home and what they needed to buy to do it. They turned to Amazon, sure, but also pawnshops. Brokers say they couldn’t keep at-home entertainment items, musical instruments, laptops, and tablets on the shelves.

But people haven’t just been making their purchases to stay entertained and educated. They’re also buying to ease their panic.

Gun sales have been through the roof in 2020, and some of the pawnbrokers I spoke to said they’ve truly never seen such a sustained boom in gun and ammunition sales as they have now, especially among first-time buyers.

Troy Farr, who owns Texas Pawn & Jewelry outside of Austin, recalled going to one of his stores on a Saturday during the spring to see how things were going and discovered 42 guns had been sold, “which is a lot for a pawnshop.” Forty-one of them had been to new gun owners. “I don’t know why they wanted a gun for a virus that was spreading, but I didn’t ask them,” he said.

Supply chain problems in the pandemic have complicated what gun sellers would otherwise see as a pretty positive increase in firearms sales, especially when it comes to ammunition.

Rob Barnett worked at his family’s pawn operation in Huntsville, Alabama, before starting up his own shop in Fayetteville, Tennessee, and he has spent decades in the firearms business. He says he’s never seen supply in worse shape, and perceived hoarding has only made the situation worse. “Once people start perceiving there’s a shortage in the industry, people start to worry and start buying things they don’t want,” he said.

Guns aren’t the only thing people buy when they’re nervous — they’re also buying gold, the price of which has increased fairly steadily for much of the year.

“Even though the prices of gold had gone up on account of Covid, people still felt the stability of gold and were investing in gold,” said Jordan Tabach-Bank, the owner and CEO of the Loans Companies, a high-end pawn brand that operates in New York, California, and Chicago. When people think the world might be going to hell — and 2020 has given them plenty of reasons to think that — they buy gold.

“That is a trend that has happened since the beginning of time,” he said.

Loans are a much bigger part of the pawnshop business than you probably realize

Everybody knows the Hollywood pawnshop tropes — the creepy guy smoking behind the counter in a seedy corner store, taking a stolen television off someone’s hands, probably so they can go buy drugs. But that’s not the reality. For one thing, it’s easier to sell stolen items online because pawnshops are pretty heavily regulated. But in recent decades, the industry has also made an effort to remake its image.

Pawnshops are a collateral, non-recourse lender, which basically means loans are made not on someone’s credit history but on the value of an item — a TV, a ring, a hammer, whatever. The length of a loan and the interest rate on it often depends on the state.

For example, in New York, shops have to hold on to pawned items for four months and can’t charge more than 4 percent interest per month; in Texas, it’s one month at a 15 to 20 percent rate for most items. People can sell their items to pawnbrokers directly as well, but that’s generally not the business model and not what most people do.

Basically, you bring in your watch, get a loan on it, get a ticket for it, and come back to redeem your watch at some point in the future, paying off the loan plus interest. If you don’t come back to pay off your loan — or at least keep paying the interest payments (some people leave items with the pawnshop for years) — the pawnbroker gets to keep your watch and can sell it.

“Absolute worst-case scenario with us, you lose your ring, you lose your watch. We do not garnish your wages, we do not ding your credit, we don’t prevent you from owning a home,” Tabach-Bank said.

According to the National Pawnbrokers Association, there are about 10,000 pawn stores nationwide that employ about 35,000 people and serve about 30 million customers annually. The stores run the gamut from publicly traded pawn companies, such as EZCorp and FirstCash, to small mom-and-pop operations. Many pawn businesses are multigenerational not only in ownership but in customers.

Pawn loans are “like clockwork for a lot of our customers,” Modell said. “There are people who live and breathe with the pawnshop.”

The NPA estimates that pawn loans average $150 for 30 days and that about 85 percent of loans are redeemed. That can vary, depending on the item — people are likelier to retrieve a family heirloom than they are a buzzsaw.

Pawnshops generally serve people without credit or with bad credit, though there are exceptions. They get compared to payday lenders, which are often predatory and suck people into cycles of debt. Are the interest rates pawnshops charge great? No. But on the scale of options for people without a lot of options, they’re not the worst, either.

“Pawn loans are, of course, one of the more expensive forms of credit, but they are often less costly than a payday or car title loan and are far less likely to trap consumers in long cycles of debt,” said Charla Rios, a researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending. “You do have instances where people are bringing in items, and they’re on loan for quite some time.”

She also noted the industry hasn’t really been growing. “Prior to Covid-19, the revenues for pawn loans were kind of flat,” she said.

Financially underserved consumers spent an estimated $189 billion in fees and interest on financial products in America in 2018, $9.2 billion of which went to pawnshops. By comparison, $25.4 billion went to overdraft fees.

“It’s a mixed story,” said John Caskey, an economist at Swarthmore College and the author of Fringe Banking: Check-Cashing Outlets, Pawnshops, and the Poor. “It’s not a complicated transaction where people are being swindled.”

Covid-19 has not been great for pawnshops

Whenever Tabach-Bank, the high-end pawnbroker, runs into people lately, they ask him about what they assume must be a boom in business this year. “People are like, ‘Business must be amazing, you must be crushing.’ But for most pawnbrokers across the nation, it’s been quite the contrary,” he said.

According to Cyndee Harrison, director of marketing and public relations at the National Pawnbrokers Association, members have reported loans falling by as much as 40 percent this year, and some shops have been forced to close down altogether. “When you have a 40 percent decrease in the core area of your business, that’s going to pinch,” she said.

There’s no single answer for what’s going on, but most pawnbrokers and experts have a two-pronged explanation. One is that people are staying home and spending less — they’re not going out to restaurants and bars, they’re skipping vacation, etc. The other is that the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March, got money to a lot of people by way of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses. Eviction moratoriums and forbearance on mortgages and student loan payments are also factored in.

In other words, people and businesses had more money, and they didn’t need to resort to the pawnshop to pay rent, float their payrolls, or even just go to the bar on Friday night. And it’s not just that they weren’t taking out new loans; they were also able to pay off their existing loans and redeem their stuff.

Kerry Rainey, board president of the NPA and owner of Bayou Pawn and Jewelry in Louisiana, described the situation as “complete madness and a complete change of our business structure.”

“Our pawns went way down, our redemptions went way up,” he said. And with all the extra cash, pawners turned into buying customers. “Now we’re having a hard time restocking the store and getting our inventory back up because of all of the sales that we’ve done.”

It’s an experience shared across the industry, among high-end shops and more typical operations, in blue states and red states.

“The way it’s turned out has been quite different than what we had anticipated, not only for us, but from some of the discussions we’ve had in other pawn stores in Las Vegas,” said Andy Zimmerman, the general manager of Gold and Silver Pawn in Las Vegas, made famous by the television show Pawn Stars.

Zimmerman said in their case, it’s not just about the stimulus and savings; it’s also the decline in casino traffic, especially earlier on in the pandemic. In Las Vegas, it’s not uncommon for gamblers to pawn items for money to bet with.

“When we’re at normal times … especially when big events happen in town and people are well-to-do, they have expensive jewelry, and they’re not very lucky at the tables. Because we have a pretty decent-sized bandwidth to take in expensive items, during those times, the loans would typically pick up,” he said.

Many of the measures from the CARES Act have ended or are about to. The extra $600 in weekly federal unemployment ended in July, PPP loans have been used up, and rent and mortgage payments put off are coming due. Pawnbrokers say that’s started to show up in their business now, too, as customers old and new are again in need of their services.

The publicly traded pawn company FirstCash reported that loans fell by 60 percent in the month of April, and while they began to improve, pawn balances were still down 30 percent at the end of September from the prior year, meaning people are still pawning things less and able to pay off existing loans more. In its third-quarter earnings report, the company indicated it expects the rebound to accelerate.

“We are starting to see people who are in need of short-term cash,” Hyde said. “The big question, of course, is what happens next, and none of us has a crystal ball.”

The negative effects on lower-end financial services aren’t limited to the pawn industry. The payday loan industry has seen a steep decline in business, too.

Pawnshops are an outgrowth of capitalism. If people had more money, they wouldn’t need them.

When asked, most pawnshop owners acknowledged that they were in an awkward position: Many people have been better off financially, at least when government stimulus was flowing, and that’s been bad for business. But shop owners countered that business overall is generally better when the economy is doing better than it is when it’s doing poorly, an assertion that experts backed up.

While the impression of pawnshops is that they are only there for people in moments of desperation, that’s not always the case. People will also pawn an item to buy a concert ticket or get that last bit of money they need for a vacation. And in good times, they tend to feel more optimistic they can pay it off.

“A pawnshop tends to do best when the economy is good and rolling and people feel safe and secure with pawning their extra item — a laptop, jewelry, television, a watch — something like that so they can just get the temporary loan because they know they’ve got their next payroll check coming,” Barnett said. A one-time government loan doesn’t provide the same kind of future assurances.

For many people, the pawnshop is just a part of their financial lives, and some of their possessions are just a part of their budget. They build up relationships with brokers and will come in to get a loan time and time again.

Lewin, the Illinois pawnbroker, told me about a widow in her 70s who has been coming to him every month for years, getting a $200 or $300 loan on a nice piece of jewelry to tide her over before her next Social Security check comes in. When she comes to pick up her jewelry, they clean it for her, give her a cup of coffee, and catch up.

Yes, pawnshops charge high interest rates that more traditional financial institutions don’t. But they are also a lifeline for people who often don’t have access to more traditional financial institutions or just need to figure out a way to get by.

Wendy Woloson, a historian at Rutgers University and the author of In Hock: Pawning in America From Independence Through the Great Depression, noted that throughout history pawnshops have been vilified in an effort to downplay the broader flaws their existence exposes. “The exploitative practices that capitalism relies on would not have worked if it were not for the pawnbroker to help people get by week-to-week,” she said.

If people had more money in their pockets, if the capitalist system worked better, then they wouldn’t need pawnbrokers as much in the first place. 2020 has been a case study showing just that. But while more help is not on the way from the federal government, it’s still going to be there from the pawnshop.

“There would be a lot of people in a world of hurt if pawnshops didn’t exist,” Farr said.

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How to Increase Your Credit Limit

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Applying for a new credit card might seem like the perfect solution when you want to manage your spending in a way that works for you.

Be it an intro 0% APR that you’re after, or just more generous rewards on purchases, credit cards let you buy now and pay later, helping you take control of big projects like home renovations and even everyday spending.

As convenient as credit cards are, however, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be approved for the credit limit you want. It can be a let down to submit an application only to receive a credit limit that’s lower than your expectations, and worse — it can put your goals up in the air.

On average, consumers who open a store card may only receive a limit between $2,000 to $2,500, and it can be below $1,000 in some cases, according to Equifax’s Credit Trends report. The average credit limit for general-use cards was higher, averaging between $5,000 to $6,000, but that can still be low for your needs.

Creditors look at a host of factors when deciding your limit, including their assessment of your credit risk, your income level, your credit score and issues they see on your credit report such as high revolving credit card balances, recent inquiries or large loan amounts.

But they take into account a few completely independent factors, too, like how well the economy is doing at the time you applied. There’s no way to predict exactly how much you can expect to be approved for.

It can be disappointing to get a low credit limit, but you’re not entirely without options. After a few months, consider asking for a credit limit increase on your new card, or you can request a higher limit on a card you’ve had for a while.

Here’s a breakdown on how credit limit increases work and how you can request one.

How credit limit increases work

How to ask for a credit limit increase

When you’re ready to ask for a credit limit increase, you’ll have the option of completing the request online or over the phone. You can submit the request via your card issuer’s mobile app or by logging into your online account.

Another option is to call customer service and ask for an increase. This option gives your request a personal touch and allows you to explain your reasoning why you need a larger credit limit and give reassurance that you can repay it. Discussing a recent raise or a longstanding, positive relationship can help strengthen your chances of getting an increase.

Requesting a credit limit increase may ding your credit score a few points if the card issuer pulls your credit report. It’s key to check the online form or ask the rep if your credit report will be reviewed.

Before starting your request, gather this information:

  • Annual income
  • Employment status
  • Monthly housing payments (rent or mortgage)
  • Desired new credit limit, which some issuers let you input during the request

You can typically expect to receive an instant decision on whether your credit limit increase is approved or denied.

If your request was denied, you may need to wait up to six months to try again. While you wait, aim to raise your credit score through on-time payments and boost your income, so you can strengthen the chance you get approved next time. You can also improve your credit score through free services like Experian Boost™, which allows you to get credit for on-time phone, utility and streaming service payments.

Experian Boost™

On Experian’s secure site

  • Cost

  • Average credit score increase

    13 points, though results vary

  • Credit report affected

  • Credit scoring model used

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

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How to Buy a House With Bad Credit: Guide for 2021

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Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as “Credible.”

Having bad credit makes it harder to get a mortgage. A low credit score makes you look riskier to lenders; it suggests you might be financially unstable or unwilling to repay your debts.

A poor score, however, can also simply be the result of not knowing how the scoring process works or having gone through a brief rough patch that required you to take on debt.

If you think you’re ready for homeownership despite your bad credit, here’s what you need to know:

What counts as a bad credit score?

How do you know if your credit is bad? Once you know your score, see where it falls in the ranges below:

  • Poor (less than 640): Lenders consider borrowers in this credit score range to be high risk. Having poor credit means you probably won’t qualify for a conventional mortgage, but you might be able to get a government-backed home loan.
  • Fair (640 to 699): Lenders see borrowers in this credit score range as less risky. You might have less debt or a stronger payment history than borrowers with poor credit. You can qualify for a conventional mortgage with fair credit, but you might need to be stronger in other areas to make up for it, and you could be saddled with a higher mortgage rate.
  • Good (700 to 749): With good credit, you’ll have a much easier time qualifying for a mortgage and getting a low interest rate. You’ll probably secure offers from more than one lender.
  • Excellent (750 and above): An excellent credit score demonstrates your ability to manage debt. You consistently make your payments on time and don’t use too much of your available credit. Combined with a steady income, you’ll qualify for a mortgage from multiple lenders and have the luxury of choosing the least expensive option.

While potential borrowers with poor credit will find it challenging to get a home loan, it can be done. You just need to learn about the options available and how lenders will look at your application.

Find Out: 800 Credit Score Mortgage Rate: What Kind of Rates Can You Get?

Credit score needed to get a mortgage

While your credit score is an important factor in your home loan eligibility, it’s not the only one. Here’s what else lenders care about:

  • Down payment: Depending on the loan and the lender, you’ll need a minimum of 0% to 5% down.
  • Debt-to-income ratio: Typically, you want a debt-to-income ratio of 36% or less when applying for a mortgage. In most instances, it can’t total more than 45% to 50% of your income.
  • Cash reserves: You might need up to six months’ worth of mortgage payments in the bank with a low credit score and/or low down payment.

Minimum credit score by loan type

Loan type
Description
Min. credit score
ConventionalA home loan not insured by the federal government620
FHAGovernment-insured mortgage for borrowers with low credit scores580
(with 3.5% down; 500 with 10% down)
VAGovernment-backed mortgage for military service members (including qualified reservists) who meet length and character of service requirements, and their unmarried surviving spousesNone
(though individual lenders might impose limits)
USDAGovernment-insured home loan for low- and very-low-income applicants in eligible rural areasNone

What having bad credit means for your mortgage rate

The lower your credit score, the higher your mortgage rate, all else being equal. If you have poor credit, expect to pay at least 1.5% more than someone with excellent credit.

The result will be a higher monthly mortgage payment and a higher long-term borrowing cost.

Assuming you’re able to secure a loan with bad credit, you won’t necessarily be stuck with the same rate forever. It might be possible to refinance to a better rate after improving your credit score.

Keep in mind: You’ll have to pay closing costs when you refinance, and if market rates increase, having a higher score might not actually translate to a lower rate.

It’s safer to only take on a mortgage now if you feel confident you can afford it long term, even if you hope to refinance or sell your home in a few years.

Learn More: What Is a Mortgage Rate and How Do They Work?

How to get a mortgage with bad credit

You might already be able to get a mortgage despite your bad credit. For example, if your score is at least 580, you can put down just 3.5% and get an FHA loan.

However, working to improve your score and other aspects of your finances gives you more options and can save you money. Follow the steps below to increase your chances of getting a mortgage:

1. Keep an eye on your credit

It’s never been easier to get a free copy of your credit report. You can receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Tip: Some sites make it look like you need to pay for your report. You don’t. The three national credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are required by federal law to provide you with a free annual credit report.

Analyze your reports to make sure all the information is accurate. If you find a mistake that could be weighing down your score, dispute it with the credit bureau or with the company that reported the incorrect data.

Check your score weekly as well. This allows you to see how your financial activity is affecting your score. If it’s moving in the wrong direction, frequent checks will help you take quick corrective action.

2. Pay your bills on time

Payment history is the most important factor that determines your credit score, making up about 35% of it.

Make sure all your credit card, auto loan, and other debt payments post to your account by the due date to boost this part of your score.

3. Work on paying down debt

How much you owe makes up 30% of your credit score. Specifically, your credit score evaluates your balance relative to your available credit, often referred to as your credit utilization ratio. The lower that ratio, the better.

For example, your score will look better if your balance on a $5,000 credit line is $500 (10% utilization) instead of $2,500 (50% utilization).

If you rack up a high credit card balance one month, try to pay it down before your next statement is issued to keep your credit utilization down on your credit report.

Tip: If you’re looking to improve your credit score, it’s important that you use at least some of your available credit. Low credit utilization impacts your score more positively than 0% utilization.

4. Stay away from hard credit inquiries

Applying for a loan or credit card will usually ding your credit score if the creditor conducts a hard credit inquiry.

Credible lets prospective homebuyers shop for rates without impacting their credit scores. We’ll show you actual, prequalified rates from our partner lenders — our process is secure and simple, and it only takes a few minutes to complete.

Credible makes getting a mortgage easy

  • Instant streamlined pre-approval: It only takes 3 minutes to see if you qualify for an instant streamlined pre-approval letter, without affecting your credit.
  • We keep your data private: Compare rates from multiple lenders without your data being sold or getting spammed.
  • A modern approach to mortgages: Complete your mortgage online with bank integrations and automatic updates. Talk to a loan officer only if you want to.

Find Rates Now

Opening a new account — or closing an old one — will also decrease the average age of your accounts, a factor that accounts for 15% of your credit score.

There are situations, however, where the benefit of applying for new credit might outweigh the impact on your credit score.

One example of this is transferring high-interest debt to a lower-interest card, which could help you pay down debt faster.

5. Consider a rapid rescore

If you’re in a hurry to boost your credit score, a rapid rescore might help. Normally, your credit report and score get updated each billing cycle.

This means that after you pay down a credit card balance, for example, your new credit utilization rate might not be reflected in your score for up to a month.

Rapid rescoring can speed up the change to your credit score. Your lender might recommend it if you’re close to having a good enough score to qualify for a loan or better rate.

Tip: Only your lender can request a rapid rescore; you can’t do it yourself.

Keep Reading: Credit Score Needed to Get a Home Loan

6. Save up for a larger down payment

A larger down payment gives you more skin in the game, which makes you look less risky to lenders. It also means you won’t need to borrow as much.

If your income is too high to qualify for other low-credit-score conventional loan programs such as Fannie Mae’s HomeReady, you may still qualify for a conventional loan with a credit score of 620. You’ll need to put 25% down and your debt-to-income ratio must be 36% or less.

In this case, you won’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance. Your monthly mortgage payment will be smaller and your long-term interest expense will be lower. So, while you’ll pay more up front, you’ll pay less each month and over time.

7. Bring on a co-signer

A co-signer whose credit is better than yours could help you get approved for a mortgage or lower interest rate.

However, they will be taking on a huge responsibility: the obligation to pay your mortgage payments if you default. If they can’t, their credit score will be impacted.

In other words, a co-signer must put their savings and their credit reputation at risk to help you. That’s a big ask.

8. Consider a loan type with less stringent credit requirements

As we’ve noted, FHA loans have low credit score requirements. VA loans and USDA loans technically don’t have a minimum credit score requirement. However, these two loan types do have stricter eligibility requirements:

  • VA loans: Only available to military service members who meet length and character of service requirements, and their unmarried surviving spouses
  • USDA loans: Only available to low- and very-low-income applicants in eligible rural areas

9. Shop around to find the best offer

Even with poor credit, you should shop around to find a great mortgage rate. With Credible, you can check prequalified rates from multiple lenders for free, all on one platform.

You might be eligible for better rates than you think. And if you’re not, you now know the steps to get your score into better shape.

Get started today by checking out the table below, and see what rates you prequalify for from our partner lenders.

About the author

Amy Fontinelle

Amy Fontinelle

Amy Fontinelle is a mortgage and credit card authority and a contributor to Credible. Her work has appeared in Forbes Advisor, The Motley Fool, Investopedia, International Business Times, MassMutual, and more.

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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 dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.co or 330-719-1756

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