Simplified: Jon Thum knew he wanted to be a cop when he was a kid. Now, he's taking over as chief of the Sioux Falls Police Department when current Chief Matt Burns retires this week.
Why it matters
- Police make up one of the largest departments in the city, with a budget of around $45 million, or, about 7.5 percent of the total city budget for 2021.
- Thum's predecessor, Burns, oversaw six years of growth and the addition of about 30 officers. That growth shows no signs of stopping as Thum takes the reins.
- Thum – whose mayoral appointment was approved by the City Council earlier this month – will also take over the department at a time when police face increasing scrutiny at the national level for how they interact with their communities, particularly people of color.
"I'm not naive to the challenges," he said, adding that he's looking to handle them head-on.
Who is Jon Thum?
Thum is a lifelong Sioux Falls resident. He grew up in central Sioux Falls, graduated from Lincoln High School and went to college at the University of Sioux Falls.
He started his law enforcement career in 2005 as a patrol cop, and he started working with the SWAT team in 2010.
- That's where he started getting involved in training, a role he continued for several years.
- He was promoted in 2015 to sergeant and again in 2019 to lieutenant.
On the family side, Thum has a wife and three sons – all of whom were there to support him at the recent City Council meeting where his appointment was approved.
What are his priorities?
Thum wants to increase community outreach.
- As a kid, his positive interactions with police officers were a major influence in his later career path. He wants to create those same positive memories for kids today.
He also sees all areas of the department needing to grow and adapt to change as the Sioux Falls metro area grows in population.
- That might look like a heavier reliance on online crime reporting for non-emergency crimes, rather than having an officer dispatched for every incident.
Thum's also long been a part of the conversation when it comes to increasing diversity in the department and having positive relationships with the community, especially immigrants, refugees and other people of color.
- He served on the board of the Multicultural Center as a training officer.
- After unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown, Thum led community conversations locally – something he did again in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.
"It's not something I'm just joining the party on ... really, a lot of the early work that I did helped lay the groundwork for the community resource officer program that's formalized today," Thum said.
What people are saying:
"He understands the diversity of our community and how that's important to embrace and make sure that we carefully look at issues in our community to make sure this continues to be one of the safest places in America," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.
"I have had the opportunity to watch him ascend as I was doing the same in other aspects, and now it's our time," said Vaney Hariri, business owner and community advocate. "It's our time to see what we can do to get closer to that place we want to be."
"Lt. Jon Thum is the right person at the right time to be the next leader of our police force," Councilor Greg Neitzert said.
"How can I vote against the guy that sports the sideburns that I had as a high school student?" Councilor Rick Kiley said.
What happens next?
Thum's appointment was approved unanimously by City Council on July 6. He'll start as chief next week.