KDPS Chief Thomas to step down at end of September

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s chief is stepping down at the end of September, the city says.

Chief Karianne Thomas, who has been with the department for 27 years, will be stepping down Sept. 30. As of Oct. 1., Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley will take on the role as the department’s chief.

The city says Thomas has been eligible for full retirement since 2017. She will also receive a one year of severance pay, which is in her contract.

“I’m truly honored to have served the Kalamazoo community and its amazing residents for 27 years,” Thomas said in a statement. “I am proud to have served as Kalamazoo’s first female chief and I am excited to pass the baton to Assistant Chief Coakley, who has the leadership skills and vision to take this incredible department to the next level. I will truly miss the men and women who put it all on the line every day to keep our community safe.”

Thomas has worked several roles during her career in law enforcement and has received several awards. She also is a U.S. Army veteran.

“Chief Thomas has truly been an outstanding public safety chief and community leader and we wish her and her family all the best in her retirement,” City Manager Jim Ritsema said in a statement. “Chief Thomas helped build an outstanding department that has become a model for public safety services across the nation and we look forward to working with Chief Coakley to build on KDPS’ many successes and continue its track record of service and safety.”

Coakley was promoted from captain to assistant chief in 2017. He has worked in law enforcement for about 30 years and worked in Kalamazoo since 1998. Before coming to Kalamazoo, Coakley worked with the Detroit Police Department for five years.

“Chief Thomas leaves behind huge shoes to fill and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to learn from her, build upon our department’s many successes and help take the country’s largest combined public safety organization to the next level,” Coakley said. “The Kalamazoo community needs to come together and I look forward to strengthening our relationships and partnerships with businesses, faith leaders and our entire Kalamazoo community to move us forward.”

Some community activists say they were upset over the way Thomas and her department responded to last month’s Proud Boys rally, which led to a brawl. He said the tipping point was when she held a press conference to release video showing counter-protesters were the initial aggressors.

“To say counter-protesters being responsible for the violence was totally wrong, a mockery, a slap in the face,” activist Quinton Bryant said. “It really shows where she stands on protests.”

“I’m not anti-police,” he continued. “I’m anti-racist police, anti-racist people.”

Bryant said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Coakley, but was keeping an open mind.

“I hope that he sincerely knows that change is happening in Kalamazoo and to make those changes, you’ve got to work with people who are in the community of Kalamazoo,” Bryant said.

Coakley, the city manager and the mayor all declined requests for interviews with News 8 Thursday.

—News 8’s Donovan Long contributed to this report.

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