KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman will soon lead the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, the first time a woman will be chief there.
Deputy Chief Karianne Thomas will officially take over Nov. 22.
Current Chief Jeff Hadley accepted a chief position in Savannah, Georgia. During his more than nine years as chief in Kalamazoo, Hadley dealt with a mass shooting that made national headlines and losing fellow officers, including Officer Eric Zapata, who was shot and killed while responding to a domestic call. Hadley said that was the worst day of his career here.
In 2013, a traffic stop study showed evidence of racial profiling in the department.
“I think we came out of that doing such tremendous work and doubling down on our efforts to engage the community,” Hadley said.
Hadley said his positive interactions with citizens are some of his favorite memories from his time in Kalamazoo. He cited a particular interaction with a woman named Miss Ruby, a black woman who has lived on the north side since the 1960s.
“I always remember it stuck with me,” Hadley said. “I was going down the steps and she called down to me and said, ‘Hey, Jeff.” I said, ‘Yes ma’am.'”
She then told him, “Just remember that we love to see those blue pants.”
Hadley said that comment stuck with him. It reminded him that police are needed in every community.
“That’s the hardest part, leaving those that you’ve done some incredibly difficult work and important work (with) and you get close to people — not just people in the department, people in the community,” Hadley said.
As hard as it’s going to be saying goodbye, Hadley said it’s the right time to transition.
He added the new chief is the right person to lead the department.
“I have so much confidence in her and the department,” Hadley said of Karianne Thomas.
You may not recognize her name or her face, but Thomas has been working behind the scenes at KDPS for 23 years. During that time, Thomas has worked in almost every position. She started in patrol and spent time in the drug unit and crime lab, working her way up to chief. She said it was an overwhelming feeling and got emotional talking about it.
“I think we’re are in a unique position. I want to continue all of the relationships that we have established within the community and build on those,” she said. “So I would like to see in the future police accreditation, to not ignore our fire side and fire accreditation.”
She added that she is open to ideas.
“The men and women at KDPS are the best and I know we’ve all got police department and police officers, but I say that truly from my heart and I hope I do them justice and the community justice,” Thomas said.
Normally, the city manager would conduct a nationwide search for a police chief. But in this case, he said there was no need: Thomas was more than qualified and has vast knowledge of the department, which will make the transition seamless.