Kalamazoo’s new public safety chief promises to listen to the community, but won’t admit to mistakes

Chief Vernon Coakley took over the department last week after the previous chief stepped down amid a wave of criticism.

Kalamazoo’s new chief of public safety promised to listen to the community more, but wouldn’t acknowledge any specific mistakes that led to his predecessor’s early retirement.

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) Chief Karianne Thomas stepped down last week after wide criticism over the department’s handling of a Proud Boys rally in August.

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In an interview with MLive and other reporters on Friday, Coakley said he wants to invest in more outreach to the community.

“These groups, in particular, they want transparency. They want legitimacy, they want equity, equality,” he said. “Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is committed to community outreach.”

Coakley wouldn’t commit to any specific steps demanded by protesters angry about the department’s handling of the Proud Boys rally and separate Black Lives Matter protests in June.

When asked about banning tear gas, which was used to disperse protesters in June, Coakley would only say he was waiting on a report from a city subcommittee on the department’s management of the incident.

When asked about the department’s handling of the Proud Boys rally, he didn’t admit to errors.

“We had groups come to Kalamazoo, where we had to react to behavior. And, in doing so, we did it professionally each and every time,” he said.

The department took a hands-off approach to the rally that allowed violence to break out, then arrested a reporter and a legal observer.

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