Kalamazoo police complaint board strengthens its role after nights of tear gas

Board will tackle all citizen complaints of alleged Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety wrongdoing and receive data more frequently from the department, among other decisions in closed-door meeting.

Kalamazoo’s Citizens Public Safety Review and Appeal Board will take a more active role in addressing complaints against city police misconduct, following the use of tear gas and allegations of disproportionate use of force during late May and early June protests.

Residents have been urging city officials to address the recent use of force to disperse protesters and make structural changes to the practices and institution of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS).

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The issues of over-policing and racist police practices regained nationwide prominence following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. Protests in Minneapolis were amplified across the country by demonstrations both of solidarity with Floyd and addressing unresolved local policing complaints. 

Kalamazoo city and public safety officials have defended and explained its actions in press conferences and interviews, claiming it was in response to property damage which it blamed on people who were not from Kalamazoo.*

Ongoing protests, rallies, and community organizing are calling that insufficient — at least in addressing underlying issues and complaints that have led to the protests in the first place.

The city said in a June 12 statement it would bring in an independent investigator to specifically look into the May 31st-June 2nd protests and police response, to “review if Public Safety’s procedures were followed, if existing procedures are appropriate, and if there are recommendations for changes.”

The statement said it would also review the citizens appeal board’s mandate.

According to two people close to the Board’s operations, during a closed-door meeting July 28 the members unanimously decided on these changes to its mandate:

  • All complaints of KDPS misconduct go to the Board as well as the KDPS Inspector of Professional Standards, the current first recipient of complaints. This potentially means two conflicting reviews of a complaint and recommendations for action, which the city manager has ultimate authority over. So far, the city manager has never decided against a Board decision.
  • Monthly review of all KDPS use of force incident reports.
  • Quarterly review of KDPS’ “Benchmark Analytics – Officer Behavior Indicators,” a performance data and analysis tool.
  • Oversight in hiring the independent investigator, not just “assist”.
  • Allow citizens to file complaints of police misconduct directly to a Board member, or at a Board meeting, to be assisted by city staff if requested.

The 12-member Board began operating in 2017, a result of fallout from previous allegations of police misconduct.

*Publisher’s Note: the initial version of this story referred to people coming from outside Kalamazoo as “outside agitators.” 

The term “outside agitators” has long been used to suppress and discount protestors and dissidents. In particular, it was used as a tool of racism by the government going back at least to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Power movement, and continued to this day in describing protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. Most recently in Kalamazoo, it was used by KDPS to assign blame for events of June 1-2 in Kalamazoo.

NowKalamazoo should not have used that terminology. Most importantly, we should not have used it because we believe the tenets of journalism are intertwined with anti-oppression, and publishing words that carry racism are thus in violation of our mission. Secondarily, accuracy is also a requirement of journalism, and besides being racist that term is not accurate in describing the events that took place in Kalamazoo.

We apologize to our readers and community for this mistake.

-Ben Lando, Publisher, NowKalamazoo

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