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GRPD stands behind hiring former KDPS chief who is now under scrutiny

Former Kalamazoo Police Chief Karianne Thomas spent 27 years at the department before accepting a job as Chief of Staff with Grand Rapids Police
 Karianne Thomas GRPD Salary Chief of Staff
Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 17:28:33-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Police and city employees are standing behind the recent hiring of an ousted Kalamazoo police chief as a new member of the GRPD, working on budgetary issues as the department's chief of staff.

Karianne Thomas was announced as the Grand Rapids Police Department's first chief of staff on Thursday.

The position was created as part of the department's Strategic Plan they have been pushing. They say her primary responsibilities will be forming and administering the department's budget.

Thomas's departure from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety came as advocacy groups were criticizing her handling of multiple protests in the summer and fall of 2020, including a protest at which members of the Proud Boys started engaging in violence, with seemingly no police intervention.

Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema confirmed to FOX 17 Monday that Thomas's contract had been terminated, rather than her departure being a mutual parting of ways, as was initially said.

Former KDPS Assistant Chief Vernon Coakley replaced Thomas after her departure.

“Karianne Thomas brings a high level of professional achievement and an experienced perspective that will benefit the department and the community,” GRPD Chief Eric Payne said in a statement about Thomas's new role.

“Her hiring represents another milestone in the efforts to transform policing in Grand Rapids.”

But advocacy groups, like Justice for Black Lives based in West Michigan, say she is the wrong choice.

Justice for Black Lives has already publicized a protest planned for this Friday in downtown Grand Rapids in response to Thomas being hired.

Their event description reads in part, "During this rally and protest we will be voicing our concerns reguarding [sic] this hiring as the last thing we need in OUR city is yet another corrupt cop!"

Thomas will be making a salary of $112, 518 in her new role with GRPD.

Jennifer Kalczuk with the city of Grand Rapids said out of 36 applicants for the job, 7 of them were interviewed.

"Thomas emerged as the top candidate in this process. In addition to the City’s usual reference check/vetting process, an extensive set of background interviews was conducted by the GRPD that included detailed interviews with over 20 people," she said in a statement to FOX 17.

"There was nothing uncovered in these interviews to suggest that she was not the best candidate to fulfill the chief of staff role."

She says that Chief Payne consulted with Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington about the decision, but the decision ultimately rested with the Chief.

Mark Washington provided the following statement himself to FOX 17, saying, “While I cannot speak to the specifics of circumstances and personnel matters in Kalamazoo, after a competitive process, the police department conducted a thorough background check on Ms. Thomas for which she passed as the Chief's top candidate. I also received positive feedback from Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema about her past performance, candidacy and ability.”

Thomas will start in her new role on June 28.