Strategies Aim to Address Bias Concerns in Kalamazoo's Traffic Stops

Sep 30, 2019

Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Karianne reaches her two-year anniversary in the job this November.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

A new internal policy in the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety now requires officers to fill out paperwork every time they search a motorist's vehicle. Additionally, they must have "reasonable suspicion" to even ask drivers if they can search their cars. Chief Karianne Thomas says this is a higher standard than the current law.


So now what we're saying is, you have to have a reason to even ask for a consent to search--Karianne Thomas

"The law allows you to ask anybody 'Can I search your person? Can I search your vehicle?' " Thomas says. "But just because it's lawful doesn't make it legitimate. If you search enough vehicles, you will get some contraband.

"So now what we're saying is, you have to have a reason to even ask for a consent to search."

She says the measures were put in place to address the results of a 2013 traffic-stop study that showed the department's officers were two times more likely to pull over black motorists than white ones. Blacks were given less citations, however searched and handcuffed more often. 

Thomas provided an update on the traffic study in an interview with Morning Host Earlene McMichael that airs today on Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WMUK 102.1 FM, the National Public Radio station at Western Michigan University.

The No. 1 complaint from neighborhoods is traffic infractions, such as speeding, running stoplights and exhibition driving

The wide-ranging interview is timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of Thomas as chief of the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department  in November. She replaced Jeff Hadley in 2017. He served for nine years.

In the interview, Thomas also talks about:

  • The department's anti-bias training
  • Her pride in her officers
  • New programs to cut crime among adult and youth offenders
  • 11 impending retirements and plans for hiring
  • What she thinks the major public-safety issues are
  • The rash of bank robberies, among other topics

Thomas said another change resulting from the traffic study is that the department has instructed officers to focus their traffic enforcement in places with the highest complaints.

 

According to Thomas, the No. 1 complaint from neighborhoods is traffic infractions, such as speeding, running stoplights/stop signs and exhibition driving.

 

"So it's not just go anywhere. Let's focus on where the problem areas are."

 

She said the result has been an increase in officers making more traffic stops.

 

Thomas, a 26-year veteran of the force, gets personal as well in today's interview. She shares why she chose the law enforcement field.

 

She started her career as a Western Michigan University public safety officer, then was hired by the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department.