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Kalamazoo community activists react to investigation of police during BLM protests, Proud Boys rally

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Posted at 10:18 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 22:35:51-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A detailed report that looks into how the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety handled protests and rallies last summer was presented by a firm that conducted it on Tuesday night.

The 111-page report conducted by a California-based group was presented to the Kalamazoo City Commission, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS), Citizens Public Safety Review and Appeal Board.

It investigates four incidents from last summer following the death of George Floyd along with the response from officers.

The four incidents in question began on May 30, 2020 when Black Lives Matter protesters clashed with officers.

On June 1, 2020, there was vandalism and looting downtown. On June 2, 2020, there was another protest where officers deployed tear gas on demonstrators, including those who were peacefully lying on the ground.

Finally on Aug. 15, 2020, a fight broke out between the Proud Boys and counter-protesters where nine people were arrested. None of those people arrested were Proud Boys.

The third-party OIR group investigated how KDPS handled the incidents, the public perception, how it's impacted the department and what needs to change.

The report ultimately found the department did not act in malice but dealt with the complexities of the incidents as they unfolded. The OIR group did report there was room for improvement.

The report also details 40 recommendations for KDPS, including revisiting tear gas policies, addressing lapses in body cams and increased transparency.

That report initially came out last Friday to give city leaders, community members and activists time to comb through each individual page before the Tuesday meeting.

Community members and activists expressed their disappointment by the results. Some even voiced they thought the $75,000 price tag to conduct the investigation was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"It definitely shed some light in a way where I think we were left with more questions than we did answers," said TC Custard, a community activist.

Five community members called in to the Tuesday meeting to share their thoughts on the results, including Custard.

"After reading through 111 pages of a report, I feel like they coddled the information; I felt they coddled the story," said Custard.

Many of the public commentators who called in also felt the same way.

"This report had a lot of flaws and a lot of errors where things were not discussed. I felt as much as we paid for this study to be done, this group should have pressed on Kalamazoo Public Safety to give more details, to give more findings, to give more updates, to give more of their reports," said Kalamazoo resident Shardae Chambers.

While the report listed the 40 recommendations after reviewing the incidents, Custard said she felt like there was not enough transparency.

"There was, you know, parts of it where there was some extreme bias, and that's where I felt like those recommendations could have been dug deeper by getting more information," said Custard.

Custard added she's interested in seeing how the recommendations are implemented and how the city moves forward, noting a change in leadership may be important.

"I do want people to get back on the board. The reality of it is this is not just a moment. This is something that we got to continue to apply pressure to and just stay aware," said Custard.

FOX 17 did reach out to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety in request for an interview regarding the report, but they did not get back to us. Instead, they sent an email of statements after the meeting concluded.

“I want to thank the OIR Group for putting together a thorough account and review of what took place last summer and for shining a spotlight on what KDPS can improve upon,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “We plan on getting to work right away with Chief Coakley to develop a thoughtful and transparent plan to implement the recommendations of the OIR report, so we can learn from the past and better serve the residents of Kalamazoo in the future.”

The City of Kalamazoo and KDPS are still reportedly reviewing the report. In a press release, they stated they will work with members of the community to begin laying out a plan to implement the report’s recommendations with a goal of having an action plan in place in the near future.

“The OIR Group’s report calls us to look within and see where we can improve as a department,“ said KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley. “I look forward to working with the City and our residents to implement key changes to strengthen the department and our relationship with the community. There’s always room for improvement, and this report provides a road map of how we can provide more effective and transparent community policing for everyone in Kalamazoo.”

KZoo OIR report on rally, protests

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