By Ed Jacques, LEJ Editor

Chief Thomas’ entire resume and credentials are far too extensive to list. He has served as the Chief of Police for the Southfield Police Department since 1991 and has over 30 years of public safety service; as Director of Public Safety for the City of Albion, Michigan, and as a detective and command officer for the Jackson Police Department. Thomas is a graduate of the Michigan State Police School of Management, the FBI National Academy, and the United States Secret Service Executive School. He holds a Doctoral Degree from Eastern Michigan University and was an all-American athlete and captain of the football team when he attended Alcon State University. Dr. Thomas also teaches basic and advanced training in the Oakland and Wayne County Community College Districts as well as the Schoolcraft Police Academy. Chief Thomas is affectionately referred to as “The Jet” and was the inaugural recipient of POAM’s Police Administrator of the Year Award. Q: In many municipalities the Chief of Police can be something of a political position. How did you get the job and how did you keep it for the last 18 years? A: First of all, I was surprised City officials offered me the position after my interview. Before hand I learned as much as I could about the City of Southfield and its diverse cultural population. I examined the political structure of the City and the public safety department and had determined its organization promoted conflict and would need some extensive modification. Instead of rejecting my controversial ideas, the administration thought they had merit, appreciated my research and offered me the job as Chief. The average police chief in Michigan’s tenure is a little over five years. I have lasted 18 years because I am a big proponent of self analyzation – if criticism of my work is valid I make changes. If not, I ignore it. Developing a positive working relationship with the City Manager and Council is imperative. I never argue with people in the newspapers and try to be a good listener. And I am a big proponent of training and equipping my officers with everything they need to protect the citizens and their own safety. Q: Can you elaborate a little bit more on equipment and training? A: I believe that training in our police academies need to be modified. My officers are educated on our version of community policing; which starts with the administration treating its officers well, knowing full certain that that will encourage them to reciprocate that respect to the citizens they see every day. Enforcing laws is “reactive” and real policing should be “proactive,” helping solve social ills before they become law enforcement incidents. But, just in case things go really bad, every officer is issued four guns. A service weapon and back-up, an M-16 and finally a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with double 00 buckshot and slugs. Every Southfield police officer attends the Michigan State Police Driving School, including myself. Q: Are officers allowed to implement any of the special tactics they’ve learned in that driving school? A: Of course, but their actions must follow proper protocol, procedure and common sense. The chase must fit the crime and be ended in a controlled fashion. Officers should be completely aware of the environment that the pursuit is taking place in and take all appropriate safety measures. The Southfield police have a reputation as having a low tolerance for criminal behavior. Q: Southfield is a racially diverse community and those demographics have changed consistently over the last 20 years. The majority of your police officers are caucasian. How is it that under those circumstances the seemingly inevitable citizen complaints are nearly non-existent? A: I want the best possible man or woman serving our community. Trust me when I tell you that the citizens of Southfield demand professionalism from their police department no matter what the color of the responding officer is. Of course we continue to encourage the recruiting of racially diverse officers and their employment in the Southfield Police Department will continue to rise in the upcoming years. But, we do not experience a lot of turnover here. Q: You have a reputation for vigilantly backing your police officers. Can you comment on that? A: Chiefs need to take charge to protect police officers in critical incidents. And that kind of support from their superiors will stop officers from hesitating in a life threatening moment. That doesn’t mean I condone bad behavior or will excuse poor decisions, but these police officers need to know that their command structure stands behind them. These are my fellow officers and I cannot help but become personally involved in their careers. Whether it’s an “atta boy” about a simple act or a personal call to their home to congratulate them on a significant arrest, I try to approach my people like human beings. Q: How is your relationship with the police and dispatch unions? A: I think it is pretty good. I work cooperatively with the unions on appropriate staffing levels. If there is some behavior modification necessary with an officer, I will often address the issue with their union president to see if we can collectively correct the situation. Organizational change comes from the bottom up and I encourage union officers to tell me how to improve their members’ effectiveness. Q: O.K. Chief. Here’s a hot potato for you. Many police departments are demanding that officers write a lot more tickets to make up for revenue sharing loss. What is your stance on this practice? A: I’m not afraid of that subject. Law enforcement should not be in the business of revenue generation. It is inhumane for officers to write tickets just to write tickets and it stops them from conducting their real business of policing. But when careless driving habits need to be corrected a ticket should be issued. Police departments need to regain the public trust. Q: Chief Thomas, I know you have special sentiments and relationships to the U.S. military. A: First of all, I believe in veteran’s preference in hiring, especially police personnel. These soldiers come to our departments with experience in taking orders, discipline and leadership skills. I am the first Michigan Ambassador to the United States Army Reserve and report directly to the Chief Army Reserve Officer in the Pentagon and US Congress. I have been bestowed the rank, honor and privileges of a Major Two Star General. I am also involved in a charity called Homes for our Troops which builds homes for disabled veterans. Q: Is it true that you have been asked to run for political office, and if so would you engage in a campaign? A: I have been asked in the past to run for some high profile political positions and I have considered those duties because I feel so strongly that many government officials are not conducting the peoples business properly. Q: Many police departments have a mission statement or philosophy that they try to abide by. Can you surmise your department’s role in the community? A: I’ll quote Sir Robert Peele: “The people are the police and the police are the people.”