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Kalamazoo Public Safety's first female chief to step down Sept. 30

Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley will be taking over for Chief Karianne Thomas on Oct. 1, 2020.
Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) will have a new chief in town very soon.

Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley will be taking over for Chief Karianne Thomas on Oct. 1, 2020. After spending 27 years with the department, Thomas is stepping down Sept. 30. She was the department’s first female chief.

“I’m truly honored to have served the Kalamazoo community and its amazing residents for 27 years,” Thomas said. “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."

Thomas was eligible for full retirement in 2017, according to the City of Kalamazoo. Now, per her contract, she will receive a one-year service package.

Thomas is a United States veteran having attained the rank of captain. During her time at KDPS, she had roles as a Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team investigator, a crime lab technician and specialist, a detective bureau sergeant, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force agent, an inspector, an assistant chief and a deputy chief.

Thomas also won multiple prestigious awards, including nine commendations from four Public Safety Chiefs, according to the City of Kalamazoo. She was also named a Woman of Achievement by the YMCA of Kalamazoo in 2015 and was honored by Ferris State University’s School of Criminal Justice as the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.

“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,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “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, who is taking over for Thomas, was promoted from captain to assistant chief in 2017. KDPS said he has almost 30 years of law enforcement experience and has served the Kalamazoo community since 1998. Before that, Coakley served in 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.”

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