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Work with a Purpose - Kalamazoo Makes History Again

Deputy Chief Karianne Thomas | KzooConnect

On November 23, 2017, Kalamazoo Public Safety will begin a new era of leadership. When Chief Jeff Hadley steps down, current Deputy Chief Karianne Thomas will take the reins. Thomas will be the first woman to hold the post at the largest combined public safety organization in the United States. KDPS provides both law enforcement and fire services to protect and serve the people of Kalamazoo.

No stranger to the service of Kalamazoo residents, Thomas has been with the department for 23 years, rising through the ranks. Serving as a public safety officer, crime lab technician, drug enforcement officer and even in city administration, Thomas brings a wealth of experience.

An Army veteran, graduate of Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, and Macomb County Police Academy, Thomas studied Public Government, holds a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and attended the FBI National Academy.

Her professional and educational background have prepared her to take over for Chief Hadley, but there's more to Thomas than these impressive formal qualifications.
Thomas will tell you she never planned on being a cop. As the oldest of four children of young parents, Thomas knew she had to figure out a way to get to college. After an early graduation from Tecumseh High School, she also knew that the structured service focus of the Army appealed to her.

"My mom says I watched too much M*A*S*H growing up," says Thomas with a smile. "The Army's not anything like that."

After her time in the Army, Thomas attended Eastern Michigan University, focusing on pre-law. With a family background in public service (Thomas had a grandfather and cousins on the force in Ohio), Thomas headed to the police academy. As a young woman considering options and preparing to enter the work force, she thought, "I can do that!"

After her police training on the east side of the state, Thomas was drawn to the slower pace and laid-back attitude on the west side. Her brother Scott was a Western Michigan University football star, and she has many fond memories of visiting him in Kalamazoo. She jumped at the chance to begin her public safety career at WMU's police department.

Ever since her time in the military, Thomas has gravitated to the service of others. As she puts it, she has no interest in selling more widgets to the world. Thomas wants to make a difference in the lives of people and work towards the greater good of her community.

"I've gotta have work with a purpose," Thomas shared.

Thomas also appreciates the regimen, schedule and rules of her chosen career field. She applied those philosophies at home, too, and her kids sometimes called the environment "boot camp." But seeing Thomas in a uniform every day gave her kids a positive attitude towards a life of service, even influencing her daughter, Quinn to go into the military herself.

Thomas' career has always been demanding. In her limited free time, she has historically devoted herself to her children's activities.

"My job might be all-consuming," Thomas quips.

However, this fall marks her first experience as an empty nester, as her 20-year-old son Ian is at college in Indiana and Quinn, 18, is at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. So away from the job, Thomas' downtime now centers on a peaceful environment at home, relaxing with her husband Dale. Luckily, Dale understands the requirements of Thomas' new role; he retired from KDPS in 2013.

Thomas will hit the ground running on November 23. She loves having the chance to impact all areas of KDPS and to take a lead role in the organization's future.

"I don't just see the rank and file of the organizational chart. I see the people behind the organization. I'm here to serve the officers," says Thomas. "I have an awesome team. It takes all of us to be chief."

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