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KDPS chief reflects on Kzoo unrest, one year later

Vernon Coakley says transparency has been the focus this year
Posted at 5:48 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 19:01:00-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Three days after the unrest in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo saw similar scenes of tear gas and chaos.

Peaceful protestors gathered at the corner of Michigan and Park were dispersed by volleys of tear gas fired by Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officers after curfew had expired.

Throughout the evening, then-Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley, promoted to chief of KDPS last fall, was attempting to reason with the crowd to disperse and go home, even kneeling with them at one point.

Eventually, force won the day as protestors were broken up with tear gas and non-lethal rounds.

“Our community, our world was in a trauma state at that time,” said Chief Coakley, speaking to FOX 17 on Thursday. “I do what my heart leads me to do, what’s right for the people of the city of Kalamazoo; that’s what's important.”

Coakley said in the past year, his office has added a transparency page to the KDPS website, enlisting the help of the clergy through their Pastors on Patrol program, and hired a public information officer—a civilian that will work in tandem with the chief’s office.

“What's works for Kalamazoo may not work for another city and vice versa,” said Chief Coakley. “My aim was to help make this world better. My community first.”

Coakley said the other key element to real change in policing is communication from the citizens being policed.

“Help us, help us,” he said. “There are times when we're going to disagree, to agree, but in the end, let's still go have coffee; let's have dinner; let's shake hands; let's still talk and communicate. That's what's important.”

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