Monday, Dec. 18 offered a moment of celebration and reflection in what was a whirlwind fall for Karianne Thomas, the first woman to lead Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Safety.
Thomas, a 2000 graduate of Ferris State University’s Criminal Justice Administration program, was officially sworn in during the Kalamazoo City Commission’s regular meeting, though she assumed her leadership role with the department on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Jeff Hadley, who had been chief for nine and a half years, left Kalamazoo to become chief of the Chatham County, Georgia Police Department. Thomas had been promoted to her role as KDPS’ deputy chief in 2012.
She said the first indications of her new opportunity arose suddenly.
“I had come back from a vacation, and Jeff told me he had an interview in Georgia, that Thursday,” Thomas said. “He was looking for his next challenge, after successfully changing our culture and the community perception of our department. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
As Hadley’s intentions were made public, Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema announced Thomas would be assuming the duties as chief, calling her “the first choice for the position.” Thomas said her time as the deputy chief was a significant learning experience, which helped to prepare her for this new role, leading a department with 221 sworn officers.
“We have been in a hiring cycle for the last several weeks and months, and finding qualified public safety officers has been a big facet of my job since the KDPS offered early retirement several years ago, during a departmental reorganization,” Thomas said. “I have been involved in the hiring process of more than half the officers serving in Kalamazoo. The department is getting back to a good strength, as hiring and recruiting can be supported by grant funds and an improving economy.”
A native of Tecumseh, near Ann Arbor, Thomas earned her first Criminal Justice degree at Eastern Michigan University, and joined Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Safety after a year and a half with the Western Michigan University Department of Public Safety.
“In 1997, I began my graduate studies, at Ferris, in the first semester the Criminal Justice Administration curriculum was offered,” Thomas said. “At that time, there were no other programs in place with the CJA focus. I knew about the stature of the Ferris CJ undergraduate program, saw this program as a good fit for my career plans, so I jumped at it.”
Thomas said one of her goals, as the leader of the largest combined public safety department in the nation, is to receive accreditation from the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Through my 24 years in law enforcement, I have been presented a variety of opportunities, experiences and leadership roles,” Thomas said. “I have been able to learn from so many talented peers and administrators. They have helped me to see and experience many aspects of the public safety profession, and I look forward to settling into my role, leading this tremendous department of men and women, as they do fabulous work every day.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Karianne Thomas, a 2000 graduate of Ferris State University’s Master of Science program in Criminal Justice Administration, was officially sworn in as chief of Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Safety on Monday, Dec. 18. She has been with the KDPS for more than 20 years, and replaced Jeff Hadley, as chief, on Wednesday, Nov. 23.