KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officially has a new chief.

Chief Vernon Coakley, a former assistant chief, was sworn in Thursday afternoon at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Kalamazoo.

Chief Karianne Thomas retired Wednesday after serving in the role for nearly three years and working in the department for 27 years.

Coakley has served KDPS for more than 20 years and has been an officer for more than 30.

He takes the roll during a challenging time as the department faces criticism for how it handled protests this summer and concerns about transparency.

Coakley says he wants the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety to have a stronger connection with the community.

“Get ready because we’re about to get on the ground. We’re going to do work. I am going to communicate with this commission. I’m going to communicate constantly. I’m going to show you where accountability lies and it lies with me,” Coakley said.

Vernon Coakley hugs his wife after being sworn in as the new chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. (Oct. 1, 2020)

Mayor David Anderson praised Coakley for his passion and dedication to improving policing.

“I do not believe that anyone is under the illusion that this is an easy time to be a chief,” Anderson said.

Anderson says the city commission supports and believes in Coakley.

“We are committed to supporting Chief Vernon Coakley to lead in a manner that creates and builds trust,” Anderson said. “Provides responsive equitable public safety and contributes to building a community which we can all be proud to call our home.”

Coakley is putting out a call for the community to join him and work with the department. He is asking for “peacemakers” to join public safety.

“This is what this city, this is what this community needs today to heal: peacemakers,” Coakley said.

The new chief says he is thankful for the opportunity to serve, knowing of the challenges ahead.

“I am so excited. I am blessed, honored and humbled to stand here as your chief,” Coakley said.

City Manager Jim Ritsema also spoke about the chief’s commitment to serving the community and compassion for its residents.