KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Many were surprised Friday morning to learn Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas plans to retire next year, given she was appointed fewer than four years ago; however, Thomas said it’s a decision she’s been mulling with family for some time.

In June 2018, former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero nominated Thomas, making her the first woman to lead the department. She’s been with KPD since 1993. “For the better part of the last 30 years, I have had the opportunity to do the job I love with the people I love. It has truly been my honor and my privilege to be a Knoxville Police Department officer,” Thomas said.

The responsibility of naming a new chief now falls to Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon — however, Friday was about expressing gratitude. “I know I speak for my entire administration when I say thank you for all the ways you’ve made KPD better and that you have made Knoxville a safer place,” she said. “We’ve walked through some really hard times together. I’ve appreciated her professionalism, her integrity, her leadership.”

Some of those tough times occurred this year. Knoxville, like many cities across the country, has seen a record number of shooting deaths. “This decision was based on my 30 years…that’s been challenging and we’ve tried to work through it as best we can. I can’t say it played an integral part, no,” Thomas said.

As she prepared for her next chapter, the outgoing police chief has a lot she hopes to accomplish including preparing for the move to the new public safety complex, ensuring a smooth transition for her successor, and taking time to thank those who have supported her over the years. “I just want all the people who have helped, loved and supported me along the way to know how much I appreciate it. I only hope that in some way I have paid that forward to the current and future generations of KPD officers,” she said.

A spokesperson for the City of Knoxville said a nationwide search for her replacement will begin immediately. The administration will seek input from KPD officers and the public to hear about the qualities they would like to see in a new chief. Those public input meetings are expected to take place the first full week in January. “We want someone who is a really strong leader and a good fit for the City of Knoxville. We’re going to have community input opportunities and also, of course, listen to current and past members of KPD and listen and then move forward with a search,” Kincannon added.

Thomas will continue the job until May 1, 2022.