Tuesday, October 19 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) – An outside firm hired to examine how the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety handled anti-racism protests and a Proud Boys rally last summer released its report on Friday, claiming that although the ministry made many good decisions, it also made bad ones.

However, the report rejected a simple classification of right and wrong, indicating that a central problem was erosion of public trust amid a breakdown in communication.

Kalamazoo town hiring the California-based OIR group in November to lead the review of several incidents from 2020, including:

  • A peaceful May 30 protest against police reform in which officers in riot gear made his way through the crowd to allow cruisers surrounded by demonstrators to move away.
  • A wave of vandalism on the night of June 1 to 2 in which police officers used tear gas to break people up.
  • Another peaceful demonstration on the evening of June 2 during which officers used tear gas on protesters which broke the curfew instituted after the vandalism.
  • How the KDPS responded to an August 15 rally by the Proud Boys, a hate group, and a brawl that followed.

The 115-page IRO report noted that many of the KDPS’s problems stem from the disparity in how it handled these May and June protests and how it responded to the Proud Boys rally.

Referring to the May and June cases, the report found that the KDPS “overcame significant challenges … and may indicate success in their controlled force deployments and their ability to maintain order” without anyone sustaining injuries. serious.

But he also said that the KDPS ‘”aggressive application” of the June 2 curfew without satisfactory explanations for its actions subsequently undermined public confidence.

Police fired tear gas at a crowd of protesters about 40 minutes after the 7 p.m. curfew went into effect on June 2, 2020.

“The use of tear gas as a crowd control measure was extraordinary, for example, and the deployment of chemical munitions against individuals lying in the streets, apparently passive, created disturbing visuals,” OIR wrote in part. . “There was concern that the response was overkill and lacking nuance – that the department’s response to limited destructive behavior would at times become a broad brush that violates the spirit of First Amendment protections. That impression crystallized for many when a newly imposed curfew on June 2 was enforced against a crowd of protesters who had taken control of an intersection but were otherwise peaceful. “

Ultimately, he concluded that there were “strong fundamentals, effective oversight – but mixed results” regarding the May and June responses.

He argued that on June 1, the department focused too much on planned protests, which were ultimately peaceful, and did not sufficiently anticipate rumors of vandalism, which finally materialized – although he noted that “to its credit, KDPS adapted to these circumstances as the night unfolded”.

Night vandalism, in turn, elicited a stronger response from KDPS. A curfew was in place and the Michigan National Guard called to help enforce it. It was an unpopular decision. Second, the department maintained an uncompromising stance of enforcement even as the protesters were peaceful, focused on exercising their First Amendment rights, and uninterested in causing property damage.

“The ministry’s choice not to make this distinction was, in our opinion, unfortunate,” reads the report.

He said that while the KDPS had many good reasons to stand up for its actions and a history of progressive agendas, the leadership seemed to indicate that was one reason it didn’t need to do more.

“… An ironic effect of the Department’s positive accomplishments is that they appeared to act as barriers to the fair and objective internal review of the complaints and issues that flooded in to City officials. In a pattern that has continued throughout their many interactions with OIR Group, department heads have not made much of a case when it comes to recognizing any sort of shortcoming or “lesson learned” from staff. challenges of these four days, ”says the report.

An example of this, the report says, is that the KDPS failed to address complaints related to the May and June incidents in the usual way. Separate emails were combined into one complaint, he said, and not all of them went through the Office of Professional Standards.

This defensive stance, according to the report, has only worsened the situation surrounding the Proud Boys, a hate group, on August 15. The planning this time around, the report said, was “questionable.”

“The decision to stay ready but ‘off stage’ at the start of the Proud Boys march appears to have been driven in part by the negativity their crowd control techniques engendered in June,” the report said. “This was true despite the fact that the situations were clearly distinguishable – that antipathy towards the police (emphasis added by OIR) which had provided the very essence of George Floyd’s protests was subordinated in August to the feud between a white supremacist group outside of Kalamazoo and a passionate group of counter-protesters.

The OIR said the KDPS knew there was a high likelihood of some sort of violence, discussing this in their plans, but, inconsistently, decided to stay out of sight. The report said the KDPS feared an escalation or appeared to sympathize with the Proud Boys and that a pastor had asked them to stay out of sight, but went on to note that “none of these explanations are is best practice for crowd management. “

A far-right group and counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo on August 15, 2020.
A far-right group and counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo on August 15, 2020.

The report pointed out that it had seen nothing to indicate that the KDPS was somehow more sympathetic towards the Proud Boys than the anti-racist protesters. Still, the report concluded that KDPS ‘plan for the rally was “flawed,” its Evaluation later that the counter-protesters were the “simplified” aggressors and his communication with the public subsequently “poor”.

The report goes on to say that the OIR improperly blamed a local church leader – Pastor Nathan Dannison – for having started the conflict and for asking that they stay away, claiming that they had been “duped”. This, according to the report, was irrelevant, giving too much weight to his control of the counter-demonstration and what he wanted from the police.

Instead, the company argued, KDPS should have made itself more visible and done more to talk to Proud Boys executives that day to find out where they were going.

“Of course, there is no guarantee that a KDPS presence would have foiled the clashes between the Proud Boys and the counter-demonstrators, but the absence of law enforcement at the scene practically guaranteed that the fight would begin,” said The report.

In all, the OIR made 40 recommendations on how the KDPS can improve, which amounts to “adopting a paradigm of clear communication, responsiveness, rigorous self-examination and openness to reform.” .

This will include building stronger relationships with the community and providing more information to the community so that it is clear what will lead to an arrest during a protest. KDPS could also work with community leaders to help them understand when and why it will use certain crowd control techniques. Notably, the report suggests that KDPS is less inclined to use tear gas.

The recommendations also focus on how the KDPS decides to arrest those who are violent or destructive and offers more training to recognize journalists and legal observers. He added that officers need more instruction to ensure they activate their body cameras and that KDPS should consider releasing this video sooner after an incident.

The OIR will present its findings to the Kalamazoo Town Commission and the Citizen Public Safety Review and Appeal Commission at 6 p.m. Tuesday, after which there will be time for public comment. You can watch it live over the city of Kalamazoo’s YouTube channel.

“We take the findings and recommendations of this important report very seriously, and we plan to use this independent review as a tool to help us learn, grow and improve,” City Manager Jim Ritsema said in a statement. Friday. “We will work with KDPS and our community to develop an implementation plan for the key changes and improvements detailed in this report so that we can build on our successes, learn from our mistakes, and better serve the residents of Kalamazoo through a effective and transparent community policing. “

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