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Kalamazoo Police Chief Karianne Thomas steps down, assistant chief to take over

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Karianne{ }Thomas announces she is stepping down as chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety on Sept. 16, 2020; the assistant chief to take over. (WWMT/KDPS)

After three years of leading the department and 27 years on the force, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Karianne Thomas is leaving the job.

The city named Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley as the new chief, effective Oct. 1, 2020, City Manager Jim Ritsema said Wednesday.

Ritsema said Thomas' last day on the job will be Sept. 30.

Her resignation follows months of protests staged in Kalamazoo and across the nation, calling for changes to police agencies and enforcement. Pointing to the deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers across the nation, the protesters claim that police departments and systems are rife with racial injustices.

“I’m truly honored to have served the Kalamazoo community and its amazing residents for 27 years,” Thomas said Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. “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’ first policing job was at Western Michigan University. Trained as a paramedic and firefighter, she served with the Kalamazoo department for more than two decades before taking on the role as chief.

“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.”

Coakley was promoted from captain to assistant chief in 2017. He has nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience and has served the Kalamazoo community since 1998. Prior to Kalamazoo, he served in the Detroit Police Department for five years starting in 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree from Ferris State University. He completed the Senior Management Institute for Police Program in 2010 and attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy in 2018.