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Kalamazoo leaders explore changing how the city handles protests

Following mishandled events over the summer, city commissioners want to revise how the police respond to protests.

The City of Kalamazoo has a protest problem.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) came under fire for the way it dealt with Black Lives Matter protests in May and June and a neo-fascist rally in August. That controversy led to the firing of KDPS’s chief.

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Kalamazoo City Commissioners want to ensure KDPS has a better game plan for responding to protests, rallies, and other “first amendment assemblies” going forward.

What It Is: A subcommittee made up of Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin and Commissioners Eric Cunningham and Chris Praedel presented a six-page report to commissioners during their regular meeting Monday. It identifies steps KDPS can take to deal with protests safely and equitably.

The report lays out four specific criteria for better protest management:

  • Safety
  • Community Relationships
  • Equitable Approach
  • Accountability

Specifically, the report recommends developing a strategy for communicating with event organizers and attendees before and during protests and rallies. That would include talking to the media to avoid spurious arrests of reporters such as happened during the rally in August.

The plan also calls for holding implicit bias training for all city staff, including KDPS officers.

What It Means: The City of Kalamazoo has been doing some soul searching following the summer of 2020. Part of that involves these changes from within.

The city has also contracted with an outside investigator to dig into KDPS’s handling of the summer protests. The OIR Group is in the process of hearing from people who attended the protests. It’s holding two public listening sessions over the next few weeks to collect more commentary.

The goal, according to the city’s subcommittee, is to ensure people can protest “while also preserving the peace, protecting life and preventing the destruction of property.”

You can read more on the city’s new First Amendment Assemblies webpage.

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