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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.

KDPS Becomes State’s Largest Agency to Complete Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program

The City of Kalamazoo today announced the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) has become Michigan’s largest law enforcement agency to complete the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (MLEAP). The voluntary accreditation program ensures police departments across Michigan operate efficiently and effectively, while using the best policing practices.

“I am pleased to announce after a lengthy, two-year process the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is the latest and largest police department to successfully complete the rigorous Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program,” said KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas. “Receiving this accreditation is a testament to the department’s commitment to operating in accordance with best practices for policing and providing the best service possible to everyone who lives in or visits our community.”

KDPS becomes just the 25th — of 600 police agencies across the state — to complete the rigorous accreditation program. The MLEAP is a progressive way of helping law enforcement agencies improve their overall performances and critical decision making.

The Michigan accreditation program has identified more than 100 standards accredited agencies must meet and maintain regarding high risk, high liability areas, including use of force, vehicle pursuits, foot pursuits, and search and seizure.

In addition, MLEAP covers topics focused on improving internal and external relations such as:

  • Hiring processes
  • Command structure
  • Handling of complaints
  • Equipment
  • Officer training
  • Workplace harassment

“At KDPS, our top priority is keeping our residents, visitors and businesses safe, which is why we chose to pursue this challenging, yet rewarding accreditation,” Thomas said. “Over the last two years, we completely overhauled and modernized our policies and procedures — all with the goal of improving public safety for our residents and visitors.”

All accredited agencies must seek re-accreditation every three years. As part of the accreditation process, departments must show yearly "proofs" they are complying with their policies.

Accreditation also mandates specific training and oversight. Each year, KDPS must conduct an analysis on all employee misconduct, conduct an audit of the property/evidence room, provide performance evaluations for all employees, and complete a summary and analysis of all Use of Force Incidents, Vehicle Pursuits and Foot pursuits. Annual use of force and firearms training is also required.

Every two years officers must receive training in less lethal weapons and subject control and officers must receive training in ethics, bias influenced policing, mental health protocols and care of detainees every three years.

“The hard work and focus that made this accreditation possible will make us a better public safety department today, tomorrow and for years to come by laying a foundation to strengthen our relationships with the community we serve,” said Jim Ritsema, Kalamazoo City Manager. “I want to thank Chief Thomas, accreditation managers Assistant Chief Jeff VanderWiere (retired) and Executive Lieutenant Danielle Guilds, and the entire department for their work to complete this rigorous accreditation and their efforts to protect Kalamazoo residents each and every day.”

City of Kalamazoo

Home to the Kalamazoo Promise, three institutions of higher education, two nationally recognized healthcare systems, cutting-edge medical research, world-class brewing and dining, outstanding parks, and an extensive variety of music, art, theatre, and cultural attractions.


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