A current WMU Public Safety vehicle.

WMU and KVCC students and community members asked questions about equity and racial justice in policing at the final installment of the Communities in Culture series July 11.

The panelists were Deputy Chief of WMU Public Safety Carol Dedow, WMU Public Safety Lieutenant Jeffery Lillard and Kalamazoo Valley Community College Director of Public Safety Rick Ives.

WSA Chief Justice Ashley Putnam-Murry and WSA President Taylor West were present as moderators.

The town hall began with a poem by WMU student Winston Ssessaga. 

“Let’s move forward and not back to the same old same,” Ssessaga said. “I carry so much anger it hurts, I said Black lives matter not Black lives first.”

Putnam-Murry asked the panelists why they believed racism exists in police departments, KDPS Capt. Victor Ledbetter said that modern day policing was taken from slave patrol.

“From that, we’re having these honest conversations where real policies and procedures can be changed to be equitable to everyone,” Ledbetter said. “So, it has been rooted in racism, but there are a lot of good officers who are trying to do what they need to do and need more support from their community.”

Ssessaga said that these issues must start with training. He said police must be educated on how to work with diverse people and different communities.

Lillard said that the WMU Public Safety has a zero-tolerance policy for racism.

“We find it and we try to snuff it out,” Lillard said. “We don’t want any bad apples in our department. There’s bad apples in every company and business…We want to eliminate them just like everyone else.”

Putnam-Murry also asked the panelists what steps DPS have taken to dismantle racism in their departments. Dedow said they have training on biases. Dedow said in one of the trainings, officers also had to take a test. The officers that did not pass the test had to retake it.

“We consistently train in dealing with not only people of Color, but international students as well.” Dedow said. “We’re on the campus of Western Michigan University, there are a number of different people that we engage and interact with daily. It is our job to be able to communicate.”

Putnam-Murry also asked how student-police relationships can be improved in certain areas at WMU such as through Vine, Lafayette or Fraternity Drive.

Dedow said there was an officer that was assigned to the areas where WMU students typically stay off campus. It has been a huge improvement for interactions, Dedow said.

It was also asked what role DPS will play for the use of masks and social distancing at WMU. Dedow said that before Whitmer’s order, the masks were going to be treated like the tobacco free rule. She added that staff or faculty members would typically remind students of the rule.

Now that it is a misdemeanor, there is no actual policy yet set at WMU DPS, Dedow said. She said that if there was a dispatch, they would simply talk to the student to put the mask on or social distance. She said there will not be a lot of enforcement.

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