City of Kalamazoo looks to put the brakes on mobile nuisance parties

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

The City of Kalamazoo is looking for ideas on how to end “mobile nuisances parties” that affect several of its core communities.

The parties are rolling late-night caravans of cars whose occupants drive fast, make noise, and congregate in an area for a short time before moving to another.

In groups that sometime involve more than 50 cars, they destroy property, wake residents, litter and make risky exhibition driving maneuvers that threaten others’ safety, according to police and area homeowners.

They have been an ongoing problem that police have tried to quash for more than 10 years, said David Boysen, assistant chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. At a Monday (Feb. 22) evening town hall meeting to find answers to the problem, he said smartphone technology has made it easier in recent years for people who participate in the parties to quickly tell their friends and coordinate places they want to be. And KDPS does not have the manpower to keep up with it as often as it occurs.

The city is therefore welcoming ideas from residents of the affected communities, which have routinely included the Northside, Eastside, West Douglas, Arcadia, and Stuart neighborhoods.

“Yes, enforcement is a piece of this, if we have to get to that,” Boysen said of a solution. “But it can’t be the only piece because we’ve tried that in the past and it doesn’t work. So we really need partnership from the community.”

Boysen was joined in the digital meeting on the Zoom online gathering platform by Mayor David Anderson, Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, City Manager Jim Ritsema, and Public Services Director James Baker.

City Commissioner Eric Cunningham called in to offer his thoughts.

“I think a component that has to really be drilled in on is -- what are some alternatives?” Cunningham said. “I know when I was younger here in Kalamazoo, we had midnight league (basketball). And we need to look for some of those types of things. It doesn’t necessarily have to be things that happen a night. But if individuals are staying up until 2, 3, or 4 o’clock in the morning, that means they have to sleep at some point in time. So maybe if we can engage them at different times of day, … We have to be intentional about that piece.”
Although the mobile nuisance parties seem to involve young people, one caller said some participants are older and all of them should be made to be responsible for the problems they cause. More than one caller said those involved usually live in other neighborhoods and come to the Northside, Eastside, and core neighborhoods because they have learned they can get away with it.

Among the things callers suggested during the town hall meeting were: using cameras to capture ordinance violations and punish those involved; installing more street lights; and, doing more standard police work.

An Ada Street resident said, “KDPS’ response is deplorable.” She said she has seen officers from KDPS and other jurisdictions watch the car caravans and do nothing to break them up. 

Aside from property damage associated with cars cutting across corners and sections of lawns, callers blamed the mobile nuisance parties for a couple of personal injury incidents including one in which one young woman fell out of a moving vehicle and another in which a man was thrown from his vehicle.

Mattie Jordan Woods said the mobile nuisance parties would never be allowed in affluent areas. Jordan Woods is executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development but said she was speaking singularly for herself on Monday, as a longtime Northside resident.

Former Kalamazoo County Commission Stephanie Williams called in to say damage caused by the rolling parties and automobile insurance claims that arise when there is an automobile accident help drive up insurance premium rates in the neighborhoods where they occur.

A lifelong resident of Kalamazoo, Williams said the mobile nuisance parties also make people hostages in their own homes, particularly the elderly.

“There are a lot of things that can be done to correct this behavior,” she said, mentioning impounding participants’ cars,  exposing some of the people who participate, and restricting some from the area.

“We’ve been talking about this for almost a decade now. Talking, taking, talking,” she said. “No more discussion. We’re tired of talking. It’s time to take action.”
In 2020, the city started a campaign to install speed bumps on various streets in the Northside Neighborhood to slow down motorists who reach speeds over 50 mph in small streets posted for 25 mph. Those streets have included Elizabeth, Mable, Church, Rose, and Cobb.

Public Services Director Baker said this summer the city plans to continue that by installing more speed bumps in the neighborhood. They will be added on Ada, Clay, Norway, Lulu (from Cobb to Westnedge), Woodward (from Kalamazoo Avenue to North Street), and Bosker.

Area residents had asked for more speed bumps last year, saying they thought they would slow down traffic. But one Monday night caller said, “Speed bumps don’t really stop them.” She said that in the motorists’ efforts to show off, they speed over them and keep going.

Monday’s town hall meeting was led by Ryan Bridges, the new public information officer at the city of Kalamazoo. He said the city is working to formulate a plan to combat the problem and hopes to unveil it at a second town hall meeting on March 22.

“We’re going to take all of the concerns, assess them, see what applies, and develop a plan for this spring and summer,” he said.

The March 22 online meeting is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m., the same time as Monday’s gathering, which lasted a little more than one hour.

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Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.