Alumni Spotlight: John Kosanke, '84, Director of Public Safety, City of Grosse Pointe Woods

 

After high school accounting classes with John Schmid, John Kosanke began his post-secondary education at Macomb Community College, with an eye toward an accounting degree. 

A job at the University of Detroit, as a community service officer, changed his mind. After eight months, he was promoted to public safety officer and sent through the Detroit Police Academy. 

“I didn’t see myself in an office, and didn’t want to be a day-to-day office person, although that's what I’ve turned out to be,” said Kosanke, who graduated from De La Salle Collegiate in 1984. 

Kosanke began his public safety career with Grosse Pointe Woods in 1990, rising through the ranks, to become the chief in 2016. He recently celebrated his 30-year anniversary with the city. 

“I liked the draw of public safety,” said Kosanke, who earned a criminal justice degree from  Siena Heights University in Adrian. “I have a cousin in Houston, Texas, who is an officer. Another cousin in Ontario. One of my uncles was a probation officer in Detroit. My best friend’s dad was a Detroit cop. I talked with a lot of friends and relatives and decided this was something I wanted to go into.” 

He has never looked back. 

“I’ve had a rewarding career over the past 30 years,” Kosanke said. “I’ve helped thousands of people and along the way, made some sort of impact with my community.”

Kosanke heads a department of 40, including officers, dispatchers, and support staff. 

During the pandemic, Kosanke has dealt with the stress of putting together plans, knowing that if one of his employees were to contact COVID-19, the virus could go through his department quickly. He had personal experience with COVID’s impact, as his older brother, Msgr. Chuck Kosanke, a 1977 De La Salle graduate, developed COVID-19 in mid-March and was hospitalized. 

“When I got that call about Chuck, it sent chills up my spine,” Kosanke said. 

But Kosanke, a self-described blue-collar guy, kept attending webinars and reviewing documents from federal, state, and county departments to make sure his staff was ready to deal with the pandemic.

“It’s the first time I can remember in 30 years that we locked the doors of the police station,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with. I had to make sure we had enough personal protective equipment for officers, and that we had protocols in place to control this. A lot of the employees have spouses who work in the healthcare field, and the chances of them coming down with COVID are quite high.” 

The protocols have been effective, and thus far no one has contracted COVID-19.

During his years in public safety, Kosanke remembers two incidents that affected him personally. 

A late 1990s incident, when powerful winds swept people into Lake St. Clair, drew Kosanke, and other officers from the Grosse Pointes, to the rescue operation in Grosse Pointe Farms. Kosanke performed CPR on a 2-year old, pulled from the water, all the way to the hospital, but the boy didn’t survive.

A trench collapsed at a residential building site in Grosse Pointe Woods also affected Kosanke. The Oct. 2014 incident occupied Kosanke and his department for 48 hours.

“It started as a recovery operation when a man was in a trench, and the dirt walls collapsed on him,” he said. “It was extremely difficult, and the walls kept collapsing. We had to pull rescuers out of the hole, and we were holding the hand of the man who was dying.” 

The father of three daughters, Kosanke credits his parents for his work ethic. 

“I learned my work ethic from my dad, as did all my brothers,” he said. “He rarely took time off and was always a hard worker. He did everything he could for me and my brothers.”

Kosanke said he recently received a call from a De La Salle alumnus. “He saw the story about me in the local paper and reached out to say he felt a lot safer knowing a Pilot is running the department.

“I just like to come in and do the best I can every day. I ask that of my staff. Get the job done.”

 

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