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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley’s visit to Kamp Kzoo started out normally. The Parks and Recreation department runs the camp for local kids during the summer, and, as in past years, organizers asked Assistant Chief Coakley to stop by and talk to the campers about the town’s public safety services. Coakley is head of Community Outreach at the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Public Safety Department.
The Kalamazoo Public Safety Department is the largest public safety department in the country, comprising police, fire, and emergency response. “All 250 of our officers are community policing officers,” Coakley explains. “We are fully committed to President Obama’s 21st Century Policing philosophy.” Outreach has been a key component of that philosophy: “Our job is to get out of the cruisers and meet Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and hear what they are concerned about and figure out how to help.”
This commitment to community engagement extends well beyond emergency response. On his way out of Kamp Kzoo, the older children drafted Assistant Chief Coakley into their game of dodgeball, where he quickly became the prime target. He asked the kids if they were just going to keep trying to get him out; the kids responded in the affirmative. “Well,” Coakley recalls, “I told them that I was going to need backup.”
Public Safety Services HQ is conveniently located next to Kamp Kzoo. Assistant Chief Coakley called his chief and requested backup from the senior officers. Fourteen officers, from lieutenants to the chief, walked over in uniform and the game began in earnest.
“I wish you could have seen them turning the corner and marching in time. It was quite the scene. It was a good opportunity, and it’s our philosophy to embrace those opportunities.” Coakley declined to disclose the final score, but it’s safe to say everyone won.
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