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Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley named as new Chief of Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety

Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley has been named chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety effective Oct. 1, according to City Manager Jim Ritsema.

Chief Karianne Thomas, who spent 27 years at the department, will step down Sept. 30.  Thomas was eligible for full retirement as of 2017 and will receive a one-year severance package, per her contract.

“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. I will truly miss the men and women who put it all on the line every day to keep our community safe.” 

Thomas’ extensive career with KDPS has included roles as a Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team investigator, crime lab technician and specialist, detective bureau sergeant, Drug Enforcement Administration task force agent, inspector, assistant chief and deputy chief. She also is a United States Army veteran having attained the rank of captain. 

“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.”

Thomas has received nine commendations from four Public Safety Chiefs. She also was recognized by Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community (ISAAC) with the Woman on the Move Award in 2018 and was named a Woman of Achievement by the YWCA of Kalamazoo in 2015. Ferris State University’s School of Criminal Justice honored Thomas in 2018 with its Distinguished Alumni Award. 

“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.

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