DEARBORN HEIGHTS — The Dearborn Heights police commissioner, Dr. Joseph E. Thomas Jr., has passed away at the age of 72.
Thomas died on Oct. 2 after a short illness.
Thomas had been hired as the city’s first police commissioner in January on a six-month basis, which had been extended once already. He answered directly to Mayor Bill Bazzi and oversaw all administrative operations and strategic planning for the department.
“We are deeply saddened over the loss of Commissioner Thomas,” Bazzi said. “He was an exceptional leader for our department. His vast educational background, coupled with decades of law enforcement leadership, made him a welcome and valued addition to our team. He will be greatly missed.”
Thomas held more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement, including serving as chief of police for Muskegon Heights, Southfield and Inkster. Before coming to Dearborn Heights, he had served as the public safety director for the city of Ecorse before being relieved of duty in May 2021 in what his attorney called an “act of retaliation” at the time for filing a whistleblower lawsuit exposing wrongdoings in the City Hall and public safety departments.
He also served as the deputy director of training for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, served as the founder and president of JET Consulting, Inc., where he developed law enforcement-related training courses and curricula, and served as an adjunct professor at Eastern Michigan University, Oakland University, Muskegon Community College and the Oakland and Schoolcraft Police Academies. Thomas was also an instructor at the Oakland and Schoolcraft Police Academies in both basic and advanced training, taught at Eastern’s Schools of Police and Fire Staff Command and served as an instructor of special topics at the F.B.I. Academy and the National Fire Academy.
Thomas was Michigan’s first ambassador to the United States Army Reserve, reporting directly to the chief Army reserve officer (CAR) at the Pentagon and the U.S. Congress, holding the equivalent of a two-star general. He achieved the rank of honorary colonel of the 645th Area Support Group of the United States Army Reserve and held the rank, honor and privileges of a retired major general.
Thomas earned a doctoral degree in educational leadership and a specialist degree in educational leadership and counseling from Eastern Michigan University. He held a Master of Arts degree in public administration from Western Michigan University, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Alcorn State University and an associate’s degree in law enforcement from Jackson Community College.
In addition to his many degrees, Thomas also held a long list of completed training and educational courses from organizations including the U.S. Department of State International Instructor’s School (Baghdad, Iraq), the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness, the National Fire Academy, the U.S. Secret Service Executive School, the FBI National Academy and the Michigan State Police School of Management.
His vast educational background allowed Thomas to develop training programs and courses to help mentor and advise elected officials during high-risk or critical incidents. He also trained governmental organizations in four countries, served as an expert witness and consultant/advisor for several government and private agencies, holding the title of master instructor for Troysgate Global, Inc., an organization that provides military and police close combat training and personnel conditioning.
Thomas was appointed by the U.S. Department of State to serve two tours of duty in Iraq as a senior police advisor, where he served as one of the facilitators that engaged the Iraqi Provincial Police, Federal Police and Judicial Investigators to take the T3 course together. He was presented an Outstanding Service Award by the Republic of Iraq for his role in leading the team that developed training programs for both general police and security teams, as well as Iraq’s senior commanders.
He was a member and held office in several national, state and local police, fire and U.S. Army Reserve organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Fire Chief Association, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Michigan Fire Chiefs Association, the Oakland County Police Chiefs Association, the Western Michigan Fire Chiefs Association, the Police Executive Research Forum, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive, several local and international Rotary and Optimist clubs and the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Dearborn Heights Police Chief Jerrod Hard joined the department around the same time as Thomas.
“I had worked side-by-side with the commissioner since joining the force in February,” he said. “He was a consummate professional and a leader with vast experience, educational excellence, exceptional insight into the workings of the law enforcement profession and a man of true integrity. Our department lost a great leader who will be missed.”