Publicly-accessible database could increase criminal justice transparency in Kalamazoo

Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) working group has initiated a campaign to create a publicly-accessible online database that will contain all arrests and criminal charges within the county. Read more!

Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) working group has initiated a campaign to create a publicly-accessible online database that will contain all arrests and criminal charges within the county. To be created, the database needs to be voted on and approved by the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners.


“So currently, the public doesn’t have good information on who's being arrested or what they are being charged with,” said Donna Ines, Interim Chief Defender at the Kalamazoo Defender. 


This campaign is supported by the Kalamazoo Defenders Office, ISAAC, NAACP, and Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo. Supporters say this database will help the public hold the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) accountable. 


“It goes to the very fiber of one of the things that is wrong with this system,” said Gwendolyn Hooker, community advocate. “There is no transparent way to be able to hold anyone accountable because we don’t really know what's happening. If it doesn’t make the news, we don’t know about it.”


The proposed database would allow anyone to find data on arrests and criminal charges in Kalamazoo County. Using this database, users could search arrests by race or gender, the specific charge, where this person was arrested, and the disposition at the end of the case. This database would not include any personally identifiable information. 


“For years we have been beating our head against the wall with this anecdotal information, ‘this is what happened to me,’ but (these testimonies) are discounted,”

Ines said.


This database could provide proof to back-up anecdotal testimonies.


Kalamazoo currently has a public database to view arrests and charges. This database, however, only searches using the name of a specific person, and does not have the same scope of information in the proposed ALPACT database. 


Hooker says the database could help answer important questions in the community, like whether or not Black and Brown residents are being arrested more often than white residents.


“We want to be able to see if there is a pattern. If there is a pattern: of the arresting officer, of the person being targeted, we wanna know all those kinds of things,” Hooker said. 


Hooker says more data and transparency will help expose areas where systemic racism needs to be addressed. 


“For years until the cellphone came, people were saying that racism doesn’t exist, the police aren’t beating up people,” Hooker said. “Then cell phones came out with actual cameras on them, and people could actually record people killing people, assaulting people and mistreating people.”


Charges for obstruction of justice could also be monitored through this system, as the presence of racial disparities are suspected here, says Ines.


Gun violence in Kalamazoo is one example of how the database could be useful, says Hooker. There were 75 non-fatal shootings and 13 gun-related homicides in 2020 according to KDPS. By comparison, there were a total of 31 nonfatal shootings and 7 homicides in 2019. In June 2021, shootings were up 47 percent from the same time last year, said KDPS spokesman Ryan Bridges.


“Gun violence is at an all-time high all over the country but it's definitely unprecedented in Kalamazoo. It's even worse when, out of all of these crimes, only two or three of them are solved. If more people knew in totality, people would be more alarmed,” Hooker said.


Supporters of the database emphasize that what they are asking for is not new or revolutionary. A number of big cities in the United States, like New Orleans and Baltimore, have databases that serve a similar purpose. 


The Police Data Initiative, a national not-for-profit organization committed to innovating law enforcement, has worked with 130 law enforcement agencies who have released more than 200 datasets to date. 


“This is not something that is a new concept. We have a right to know, and we are paying for it, they work for us, as taxpayers, we want to know what our money is being spent on,” Hooker said.


Supporters of the database are working on finding funds to support its creation and upkeep before presenting it to the County Board of Commissioners. 


Raine Kuch