On February 16, 2015, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley released an open letter to Kalamazoo outlining policing reforms in response to the racial profiling study conducted in 2013.
As a community-based anti-racist organization, Kalamazoo4Justice incorporated the long-standing concerns of Kalamazoo residents about the continuous and systemic abuse of power. The attached response was created to inform the larger community of ongoing issues within KDPS that Kalamazoo4Justice intends to address
In light of recent events sparking national discourse on policing and the increased media attention on Kalamazoo’s own police force, Kalamazoo4Justice seeks to respond to Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s Chief Hadley’s open letter to the Kalamazoo community. Led by a community of local anti-racist activists, Kalamazoo4Justice seeks to influence public policy, legislation, and social perception through community engagement, public dialogue and direct action regarding racial disparities and oppression. This mission is driven not only by informed research, but the stories of Kalamazoo victims of police brutality and disrespect towards community members, as well. With the frequent recurrence of these incidences in mind, we seek to speak out against the broad strokes with which KDPS has been painted as a success story both nationally and locally. Operating with the framework of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Chief Hadley’s open letter is organized in six categories: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policing and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Safety and Wellness. For our purposes, we will respond to a few relevant sections outlined by Chief Hadley in order to problematize KDPS’s perceived progress.
Building Trust and Legitimacy:
Despite the mentions of canvassing, block parties, and coffee dates, on the subject of building trust, Chief Hadley’s letter falls short of acknowledging the historical distrust and generational trauma fostered by local police among residents. Yet failing to incorporate a system of reconciliation leads to furthering feelings of trauma for many residents. As one community member stated, “Healing doesn’t just happen… It takes time.”
Policy and Oversight:
Subsequently, trust must be developed with a sincere commitment to oversight and accountability. Citing the Milwaukee Police Department as a model of police oversight, Chief Hadley describes new guidelines adopted by KDPS concerning ‘consent to search.’ However, upon further research the Milwaukee Police Department proves to be a far cry from exemplary law-enforcement. In 2012, MPD was found to have misreported 500 minor assault cases since 2009
. Most recently, Milwaukee police officer, Christopher Manney, was fired after killing Dontre Hamilton
, a homeless man with a history of mental illness. Manney shot 20 times at Hamilton during what was found to be an “out of policy pat down.”
In the case of Kalamazoo, due to the historical distrust created between police and Kalamazoo residents, not only does the shift towards consenting to historically unlawful searching create little impact, but it also operates under the false assumption that reasonable consent can be achieved within the power dynamic that exists between these actors. Furthermore, the reinstated Citizen’s Public Safety Review and Appeals Board is both far removed from the community and an ineffective oversight body. The review and appeals process is still largely unknown even after its recent ‘relaunch.’
Not only are the 12 members of the Board appointed by City Manager, Jim Ritsema, the appeals process is also under the auspices of this same department. The lack of transparency and undemocratic nature of such an organization demonstrates the severe disconnect between police accountability and the people. The review and appeals board should report directly to the City Commissioners as an agenda item each meeting, in order to create a public record.
Community Policing and Crime Reduction:
On the subject of Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Chief Hadley cites KDPS’s focus on ‘Hot People,’ rather than ‘Hot Spots.’ Despite the intention to shift focus away from areas with high crime propensity to people, the distinction between this approach and profiling is blurred at best. The success of “Operation Ceasefire,” a gang violence reduction strategy, is unclear and misleading. Self-taught criminologist and self-proclaimed savior
Operation Ceasefire’s founder David Kennedy established a set of ‘carrots and sticks’ in order to discourage violent behavior among local gang members. However, in Boston, Massachusetts, where Operation Ceasefire was first implemented, initial decreases in gun violence were short-lived and not formally evaluated When Operation Ceasefire’s model was transported to Los Angeles, the impact was not statistically significant due to short-sighted leadership and a fundamental failure to incentivize nonviolence. For the purposes of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo4Justice questions the efficacy of an anti-violence model predicated on reducing gang violence for our city. We recognize the importance of reducing violence in order to improve the quality of living for all Kalamazoo residents. However, to transplant a program that does not address the root causes of violence locally and therefore does not adequately incorporate community needs, especially one that costs $800,000, would be a grave mistake. Additionally, instituting an anti-violence program that is tied to the police, one of the major institutions which contributes to the violence and impoverishment of communities, is naïve at best.
Training and Education:
While we applaud various training attempts--particularly those related to de-escalation techniques for mental health consumers--we are concerned about the Chicago Police Department, much like Milwaukee, being used as an example to look toward. CPD has not shown itself to be a worthy model of policing, especially of late, with the exposure of secret “Black Sites” used to illegally detain and abuse community members. Furthermore, we ask where is the training that addresses the origins of policing in the United States, in the larger context of white supremacy and white privilege? If KDPS is unaware of the history of policing, how does it expect any future reforms to be just?
Officer Safety and Wellness:
As KDPS is concerned with education and safety of officers, so too is Kalamazoo4Justice concerned for the wellness of Kalamazoo residents. The above critiques of KDPS’s approach seek to bring attention towards the lack of accountability prevalent throughout local law enforcement. Small actions, such as Chief Hadley’s open letter or Al-Jazeera’s recent profile of the police department, have engendered a false sense of security and inaccurately portray lived experiences between residents and KDPS. By critically examining these assumptions, we seek not to create an environment of fear and distrust, but rather, to create a more safe and equitable community for all. If KDPS is in fact committed to reform, we would be willing to not only address these concerns, but, more importantly, propose effective solutions.
Published by: Kalamazoo4Justice on Apr 13, 2015
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