Justice

Kzoo police chief admits protests could have been handled better

Questions remain over whether anything will change after independent review of police mishandling of protests and rallies last summer.

Kalamazoo has finally heard from investigators looking into the police mishandling of protests and rallies during the summer of 2020. And their findings show room for improvement.

Context: The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) came under fire for being too aggressive during Black Lives Matter protests in May and June of 2020, and for being mostly absent during a rally by a group of neofascists from out of town in August of 2020.

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City leaders hired the OIR Group to investigate the series of events and come up with a report. The investigators presented their findings Tuesday night to a joint meeting of the Kalamazoo City Commission and the Citizens Public Safety Review and Appeals Board.

What Happened: The OIR Group found multiple problems with how KDPS managed both the protests and the rally. They said the use of tear gas and other “less lethal munitions” was excessive. Many officers failed to turn on their bodycams. And the arrest of a journalist and a legal observer was inappropriate.

Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley agreed that changes need to be made while avoiding committing to anything specific.

“There‚Äôs always room for improvement and this report provides a roadmap of how we can provide more effective and transparent community policing for everyone in Kalamazoo,” he said.

What’s Next: Next steps are kind of up in the air. City Manager Jim Ritsema told commissioners he’s still working out what will happen next.

“We will work with KDPS and our community to develop a plan to implement key changes and improvements detailed in this report so we can build upon our successes, learn from our mistakes and better serve the residents of Kalamazoo through effective and transparent community policing,” he said.

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