I spoke with Lieutenant Michael Lewis of the Kent police department to discuss the recent protests in
Kent in support of the black lives matter movement. I asked him a handful of questions regarding the
local police response and role in the organized events and marches that have taken place on and off
Q: When some of the incidents took place earlier in the year and the protests started nationwide,
what was the Kent PD response to the events taking place around the country and what was the
departments role in protests and marches taking place in Kent?
A: We’ve been experiencing this since going back to May, that was when we started to see the first
marches, demonstrations, protests, uprisings, whatever you want to call them and the students were
not in session, but obviously we have a lot of people in our community year-round and had a lot of
students still living in Kent at the time. When the George Floyd incident happened in May that was
something very tragic for everyone to experience and to watch that footage was difficult, and it was
hard for all of us. I don’t think you’ll find an officer in our department who thinks those actions were
justified, and that’s playing out in a process. Of course, that was when we also saw protests taking place
here and started having people come down to the police department having demonstrations. I wouldn’t
even call them protests, they were demonstrations, they were gatherings, and we were all on the same
page. We were welcoming to the people that came down to the police department and I personally
tried to go out and greet some of them with a COVID elbow bump. We understood that they were
exercising their first amendment right and we were there to protect that. If anyone gave them problems
for that or if anyone that wasn’t with them tried to cause harm to anybody or damage to anything, we
were there for them to let us know. We’re all in this together and we appreciate you coming here, we
appreciate you being peaceful, and we appreciate you being respectful. That dialogue is what has really
set the tone and we’ve been welcoming to everybody who has come down.
Q: Have the people organizing the events contacted you before?
A: For the bigger ones we’ve been made aware of them more often than not, but not always. Theres
been some larger ones that started at the university and came down here, there was one downtown at
the gazebo but there was a number of consecutive days where groups as small as three to five people
would be out front of the station all day for about a month or so, and I would try to go outside and greet
them and welcome them. If they wanted to discuss something, I would be open to discussing it.
Q: Is there a dialogue between the police and some of the organizers?
A: As I said, I think we’re all on the same page and communication is something that is very important to
us. I think a lot of misunderstandings come from miscommunications, so we try to be understanding.
Q: Obviously these demonstrations started around the time of the George Floyd incident among
others, what has the Kent Police Department done to avoid any sort of situation like that and
integrate a level of understanding into the culture of the department?
A: That’s an excellent question and the answer is careful selection and extensive training. We are an
outstanding police department, I think we’re probably the best in Portage County and maybe one of the
best in the state, and the reason for that is we are very careful and particular about who we select to
join this profession and on top of that we do very extensive training. I think that you would be surprised
by the minimal amount of training it takes to become a police officer in the state of Ohio and a lot of
that comes down to budget. It comes down to money and resources that are available, but we hold
ourselves to a much higher standard than that and we always have, so we always make sure to provide
our officers with a lot of training and knowledge to know what is appropriate.
Q: Does being the police department in a college town with so many people from all over the world
have any effect on how you run things in that regard?
A: I think that Kent State University has a tremendous impact on our culture as a police department in a
number of different ways. One is we’re a highly educated community. I feel it is important for a police
department to adequately reflect the community, and the university is a tremendous part of that
community. We wouldn’t be who we are without Kent State, we wouldn’t have the size of the
department that we do without the university and what the students and staff bring to our community.
In addition to that, we have a very different culture than other places and we’re known throughout the
nation as a place that has always seen uprisings and protests. I don’t think we will ever not hear about
what happened in 1970 and unfortunately it seems like every time I tell someone I work for the city of
Kent they refer to the shooting that happened. We’re such a tremendous community and university
aside from all that but we are known historically to have some unrest so I think our police department is
better prepared to handle incidents of unrest, large gatherings, and protests. I think that the city police
department as well as the university police department are both better equipped to deal with those
sorts of things because of our history.
Q: Have you seen protests slow down as the weather has gotten colder and do you foresee in the
spring once it starts getting warmer or and will you be prepared for them?
A: We’ll be prepared for them. I don’t expect them to slow down, but what’s important to me are the
conversations and discussions. I understand why many may want to gather and have demonstrations
and rallies, but my approach to all of this is on a smaller scale. I think that we can do better by having
conversations where we can sit down at a table and have a discussion with just a few people. I think that
rallies, protests, town hall meetings, and things of that nature are a little bit too divisive. I think that
more intimate and personal settings with small groups for discussions are going to be more productive
in resolving a lot of the misunderstandings, which as I said before, I think a lot of the issues are
stemming from misunderstandings. Communication, openness and good productive discussions can
help that, so I hope that those continue. I hope that we continue to come to the table and have
conversations, create a better understanding because the way to get through all of this is by building
relationships. I think that too often people get caught up in the larger scheme of things where it’s the
police vs. Whomever, but that’s not the way to go about it in my opinion. I want us to have
communication and relationships with individuals in our community who that we may see all of this on
the news, but that’s not Kent PD. That’s not who Kent police are and those aren’t the people who I have
come to know.
Q: Have any of these intimate discussions taken place already and will they continue to?
A: They have taken place and they have since May and I’m in communication with different groups right
now setting up more of those conversations. I think it’s best done in small setting, so you don’t have large
groups talking over each other. I think if you remove that aspect we can have more meaningful discussions, which I am always open to.