Kalamazoo citizens and Western Michigan University students seized the opportunity to sound-off to local law enforcement agents at a “Teach-In” held on January 22, 2015.
This open forum event, hosted by the Lewis Walker Institute for Racial and Ethnic Studies, was developed to bring community members together with officers, city officials and university leaders to candidly discuss the matters of police violence, racism and social injustice.
Chief Jeffrey Hadley of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety joined the panel, along with Lewis Walker, Ph.D, Doug Davidson, Ph.D and Tim Ready, Ph.D. To begin the discussion, the panel presented some stark statistics and personal accounts of biased practices against the African American community as it relates to police force and abuse of power.
Davidson, a professor in the sociology department of WMU, provided a fact sheet to attendees which stated the rate of police killings of black Americans today is nearly the same as the rate of lynching in the early twentieth century.
Walker, WMU Sociology Chair Emeritus asked, “Is the criminal justice system responsible for the new Jim Crow environment?”
Jim Crow laws legalized segregation in the south and provided for police engagement in public mistreatment, and often hangings, of African American citizens.
Upon introduction, Hadley said, “They call this a teach-in and I guess I’m here to be a learn-in; to sit back and absorb the multitude of perspectives that will come out of the breakout sessions.”
He concluded by saying, “In the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, we listen and we’re working really hard to do the right thing. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, things happen, no question about it. We’re here to answer your questions honestly and truthfully.”
Open forum breakout sessions were led by student leaders and faculty of WMU, as well as City Commissioner Don Cooney. According to Ready, there was some “controlled conflict.”
Attendees voiced their frustrations with national police violence issues, opening the door for local officers in attendance to respond. Captain David Boyson of KDPS addressed the issue of a distressed relationship between the public and law enforcement.
Boyson explained this issue can have negative effects on the department and the community. “One of the things that harms us as local police officers, is that if an officer screws up anywhere in this country it’s on social media. It’s on Facebook, it’s on Twitter, and it’s on the nightly news. People see this and they think that kind of thing happens all the time.” He said hatred of officers endangers those who have done nothing wrong.
A female audience member commented on the striking similarity between the struggle faced by both officers and African American males. She said for both sides it was like “painting a group with a broad brush based on one bad apple.”
The discussion turned when a student participant commented, “I think that’s all great, but the biggest concern is that one bad apple is not held accountable.”
Assistant Chief Donald Webster agreed.“I get it there’s no accountability,” he said. “This has been a huge issue across the country.”
Concerns were raised about the bias of officers to “cover up” for one another. Boyson defended KDPS and said, “Our officers despise any type of corruption. We’re not going to cover anything up.”
National statistics on police crimes are available through the FBI website, but according to Ready, Director of the Lewis Walker Institute, local and state information is not as easy to find. “Data can be obtained, but you sometimes have to draw your own conclusions,” Ready said.
Ready explained that the most information can be found on juvenile arrest records. A 2012 report by the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice reported in Kalamazoo County there was 1 white juvenile arrest to every 5.17 African American juvenile arrests.
In a post event interview with Hadley on Jan. 27, he provided the information for obtaining data through KDPS. “First understand what you are asking for,” he said. According to Hadley, data is available to the public. He said, “It may take some time, but we can get it.”
Hadley said to file a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act) with the city attorney’s office. The city attorney’s office would then forward that information to the police department for research.
According to Ready, Hadley is well regarded as a chief who is working hard in the community to address these issues.
There are a number of initiatives currently being applied within the department, including classes on fair and impartial training, police legitimacy with a historical context of policing and community, and cultural competency classes.
Webster said he is often questioned by younger officers, “Why is society so mad at me?” He said this question is often answered with the historical aspect of the training. This training focuses on education of how the black community has been regarded historically with racial bias and how history can repeat itself. “The historical piece of the training is very powerful,” said Webster.
There have also been policy changes in terms of “consent to search” procedures, according to Hadley.
For instance, Webster said constitutional law allows officers to ask if there are drugs, alcohol or weapons in a vehicle on a routine traffic stop. “We recognize that’s what sets the tone for the younger generation to get upset.”
That practice was discontinued by Kalamazoo police officers, according to Hadley and Webster, provided there is no reasonable suspicion.
In addition, there are efforts to change the reward system for officers. Hadley said typically police officers are promoted based on statistics like arrest and ticket rates. There is now a component of community relationship building in which officers are expected to look for opportunities to interact with citizens by attending community events, local church events, or even just stopping and talking. Sergeants are responsible for assuring this component is met.
Hadley said he is not interested in stats or number of arrests, but wants to know that officers are taking the direction of the administration. “For those that don’t, they’re going to get left behind,” said Hadley.
The Kalamazoo Police department has been designated as a host site for training on implicit bias. There are four officers who are have been designated to lead this educational opportunity for departments from Battle Creek and Grand Rapids which will take place the second week of February.
In accordance with Black History Month, Hadley suggests taking a trip to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids. Hadley said he has taken many of his officers to further increase awareness on the historical issues of racial bias.