Kalamazoo Public Safety launches survey and invites public to walk in "an officer's shoes for a day"

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
KALAMAZOO, MI – Everybody has a story to tell about a time they were pulled over by the police.
Stories worth telling usually come in two varieties. There was the time when things went bad: “The cop said the light was red but it wasn’t.” And the times that seemed to involve divine intervention: “I know I sped up and switched lanes without signaling, but somehow got off with a warning.”
Whichever it is, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety wants to hear how it went – your interaction with the officer, that is.
“It’s not really about whether they committed the violation or not,” says KDPS Chief David Boysen. “It’s about how they were treated, was the process explained, and was it fair?”
Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief David Boysen says data will gather public comment on how officers proceed during traffic stops and when they respond to calls for service.On April 1, KDPS began a 90-day trial of My90, a surveying tool that collects data on officers’ interactions by providing online questionnaires to motorists. KPDS spokesman Jay Shatara says motorists who are stopped by officers receive a business card that has a QR code and other information to connect them with the My90 survey and allow them to participate. The card states:
“Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety requests your confidential feedback. How was your experience with a Kalamazoo officer today? Please share your thoughts in a one-minute survey from My90 by Axon independent survey provider.”
In situations where KDPS receives a call for service, it will use a caller’s cell phone number to automatically send a text message to them with the same invitation to comment on the interaction. Boysen says the catalyst for the trial program is the department's desire for accurate data.
“I get asked about how we’re doing and I’ve told community members that I think we’re doing well,” he says. “But I don’t have the data to show how we’re doing. We don’t have a mechanism to measure how are the citizens doing. What’s their satisfaction? If they call the police, how do they feel about that interaction?”
Shatara says the department started looking at products to assess citizens’ experience and decided to use the My90 survey tool by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Axon, a seller of police body cameras, tasers, and other devices. KDPS does not presently use any of Axon’s other products.
The trial technology comes with an internal department survey. It is asking officers how they’re doing. How is their mental health? What can the department do to help better support them and their families?
Kalamazoo Public Safety is collecting data on officers’ traffic stops during a 90-day period.“I think my officers are doing OK,” Boysen says. “I know we have a tough job and it’s stressful. But I don’t really have the data to say one way or another for sure.”
The results could help the department decide if it needs to beef up its mental health support and/or its structural support for officers.
The survey of officers will not be related to any specific incident. Officers will also receive a random text to fill out anonymously. The results of their surveys as well as those of members of the public will be handled by Axon as a third-party vendor. KDPS will get the aggregate results. Although the surveys have check boxes for many responses, they invite respondents to write out anything else they want to say in a comments section.
Among the questions motorists are being asked is whether the responding officer identified himself or herself. Did you get a ticket? And if so, did the officer explain to you what you need to do to take care of the ticket?
“Those are the procedural justice things that we want officers doing,” Boysen says. “It’s not really about whether they (the motorist) got a ticket or not. It’s about whether the officer was courteous. Were they professional? Did they identify who they were? Did they explain what to do to take care of the ticket?
He says he hopes the trial program proves to be a good way to de-escalate situations “because people are upset many times when they get stopped for a traffic violation. And many times people just want to be heard. So they have an opportunity to type in comments.”
Boysen says, “I’m very confident that the vast majority of the comments we’re going to get will be positive because I know that we treat people with respect and we have a great group of men and women out here that do a good job, and are patient and calm during high-stress incidents.”
He says he believes his officers get things right almost every time. “But I need data to show it. So this is the data that hopefully will help us capture that. And then also identify ways that we can do better. We need to learn, too.”
An insider’s look at law enforcement
Once a year is not enough to give people a hands-on look at how police do things, police spokesmen say. So area police have decided to conduct a spring session of the Kalamazoo Regional Citizens Academy.
The two-day training session – usually only held in the fall -- offers an insider’s look at law enforcement and a chance to talk with officers about everyday issues in law and order.
Citizens are allowed to participate in simulated emergency response situations during the Kalamazoo Regional Citizens Academy.“It’s basically a citizens' police academy,” says Shatara. “It’s over two Saturdays, back-to-back. … We put you in the police officer’s shoes for a day. You go through some of the trainings. You’ll get to go to the gun range to shoot. You’ll get to shoot a Taser. You get to go through a live simulation.”
The latter may include anything from a traffic stop involving a difficult person to a school shooting. And for the first time, this year’s program will use virtual reality technology.
“You’re the police officer,” Shatara says. “You have a gun in your hand. What do you do in that scenario?”

The Citizens Academy is a program that area agencies have conducted each September for many years, typically inviting individuals who are community partners of the police, including nonprofit organizations, members of neighborhood associations, and elected officials such as members of the Kalamazoo City Commission.

Starting with a new session to be held May 6 and 13 at the KDPS training area on Nazareth Road, any interested member of the general public may apply to participate. Participants have to be at least 18 years of age and a resident of Kalamazoo County.
Citizens are allowed to participate in simulated emergency response situations during the Kalamazoo Regional Citizens Academy.The training is hosted by KDPS in collaboration with the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office, Kalamazoo Township Police Department, Portage Department of Public Safety, Western Michigan University Police Department, Michigan State Police, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We realized that doing it once a year was not enough,” Boysen says. “We need to do it twice a year. The more people we can get through that academy, the more people understand what it’s like to be a police officer or a public safety officer, the more relationships we build.”
According to information provided by Shatara, the goals of the academy are “to increase public awareness of law enforcement operations, improve communication, and facilitate an opportunity for honest dialogue between community partners and law enforcement.”

Speaking of potential participants, Boysen says, “Honestly, we’re looking for people that aren’t all pro-police. We want people that are a little skeptical about the policing, that are like, ‘We’re not sure about you guys.’”
He says, “We’ve seen how people maybe come into it (the academy) having one opinion of policing. But they walk away with a whole different level of understanding about what goes into the job and the work. We know that’s super-important.”

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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.