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Police hoping for ‘mutual respect’ as WMU students return for ‘Welcome Week’

Posted at 5:24 PM, Aug 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-25 18:20:04-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Despite an eventful and at times rowdy 'Welcome Week' last year near the campus of Western Michigan University, police said this year's approach to planning and patrols will not be drastically different.

Last August, officers said they were forced to use pepper spray on a crowd of roughly 400 people partying at an apartment complex just off campus after people began throwing rocks and bottles at police.

While officers will plan to be more visible and have more interaction with students, Chief Jeff Hadley with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said using force or pepper spray will remain a last resort.

“You don’t want to come in and be an 'occupier.'" Hadley said Tuesday. "We don't want to come in and ratchet things down and put a whole bunch of people in jail unnecessarily."

Hadley says tear gas and pepper spray will still be an option, but only for crowds that grow too large, too quickly.

"We want to get out in front of it quick enough, get our officers visible and get them talking to students," Hadley explained, "If we have to come back and say 'they've got to move on' or 'break this up', at least there's some kind of mutual respect."

Given the fact so many pictures and videos taken during parties last year were posted online, Hadley said his officers will also be monitoring social media to keep track of where large groups might be gathering.

What will be different from year's past, is the addition of what's expected to be a highly attended Friday night football game on Sept. 4 between Western Michigan University and Michigan State University.

With that in mind, Hadley said police in Kalamazoo will be joined by Michigan State Police, WMU campus police, as well as officers from neighboring Kalamazoo Township and Portage to help with patrols and crowd control.

Stepped up patrols will also be more 'continuous,' stretching from move-in day Sept. 1, to the game Friday and through the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Last year, police told FOX 17 issues with crowds and parties had only become more pronounced in recent years with more students choosing to stay during the holiday weekend rather than return home.

“We just expect people to be reasonable, be responsible, respectful and have a good time but do it with some common sense…”

A spokesperson for WMU did acknowledge the different dynamic this year, given the MSU game and large crowds expected, but would only say the university is working with safety officials to plan carefully and be proactive to respond to "any unusual situations, as they did last year."

Last September, WMU President John Dunn said making changes to the academic calendar to limit the amount of time between students returning to the area and classes starting up again could be an option worth discussing. No changes have been made.