Meeting focuses on independent review of KDPS’ actions

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — City officials held a meeting to discuss the findings of a private firm’s report on how the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety responded to anti-racism protests and a Proud Boy rally last year.

The virtual meeting was hosted by the Kalamazoo City Commission and Citizens Public Safety Review and Appeals Board.

The report, which is more than 100 pages, from California-based OIR Group was released to the public last week. It looked at a number of 2020 incidents including anti-racism protests, a night of vandalism downtown, enforcement of a resulting curfew and an August Proud Boys rally that sparked a brawl.

OIR Group commended some of the department’s action, but also noted areas of improvement. 

One of the areas that the group commended was the department’s response to a May 30, 2020 rally over police reform. Officers in riot gear pushed their way into a crowd to allow cruisers surrounded by protestors to drive away. 

“They just kind of moved in, assisted in getting officers out and moved back out again instead of being a strong or intimidating presence in any way,” Stephen Connolly of OIR Group said. 

The California-based group found negatives, including the handling of an Aug. 15, 2020 Proud Boys rally that ended in a clash between the Proud Boys and anti-Proud Boys protestors. 

OIR found that KDPS treated the event similar to a peaceful George Floyd rally on July 11, 2020 in which the officers were staged a couple blocks away and out of view. 

“The decision to treat the Aug. 15 Proud Boys march in a similar way was puzzling,” Julie Ruhlin of OIR Group said. “Because the recognition from outside that it was a different type of event. The KDPS operations plan noted there were three counter-organizations staging counter-protests, with references to threats against the Proud Boys. Other KDPS intelligence acknowledged that the Proud Boys had a penchant for instigating violence. Nonetheless, the plan was to stage crowd management squads out of the area and out of sight and to have them available if needed.”

The firm also found the department’s enforcement of a curfew at June 2, 2020 rally to be inadequate. Officers used tear gas on peaceful protestors. 

“In our observation of various pieces of footage and evidence that crowd was largely peaceful, standing, demonstrating, engaging in First Amendment protest,” Teresa Magula of OIR Group said. “KDPS however was really intent on enforcing this order and eventual result was deployment of tear gas and other less lethal munitions.”

OIR has 40 recommendations for the department, including short- and long-term changes. The firm says including the community in talks is key to creating change. Jim Ritsema, the city manager of Kalamazoo, says that will be noted going forward. 

“Definitely want to involve the community as we move forward,” Ritsema said. “How we show our progress in this and lean on them to be better. I think that’s going to be a part of that. I envision later this year coming back with what you just mentioned, the plan and how we’re going to with recommendation A, response A, and how we’re going to track it, and do that for all 40. And have a mechanism to do that and use that as a way of being transparent and reporting progress.”

Residents voiced their displeasure regarding KDPS’ actions and questioned why OIR was hired to review the department’s actions. 

— News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder contributed to this report.

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