Citywide News

Posted on: February 24, 2017

Former police chief to be laid to rest

Thomas Bonner.jpg

Note: Via The News-Herald Newspapers, written by Dave Gorgon

Thomas Bonner, the longest-serving chief of police in the history of the city of Taylor, died the morning of Wednesday, February 23, 2017, at Beaumont Southshore Hospital in Trenton. He was 71 years old.
Mr. Bonner served as a Taylor police officer for 34 years, the last 16 as chief. He is credited with being a leader in law enforcement in his own community and throughout the region.
Before retiring in 2002, Chief Bonner built the size of the Taylor Police Department to more than 100 sworn officers and regularly provided new vehicles for them to use, while giving his officers state-of-the-art equipment and up-to-date training. While he was chief, the new Taylor police station was built, meeting the needs of Downriver’s largest community’s police force.
Chief Bonner is credited with promoting regional cooperation through his roles as chairman of the Downriver Community Conference (DCC) – a board consisting mostly of elected officials – and the Downriver Mutual Aid Task Force. In those positions, he oversaw the creation of a high-powered digital communication system that continues to provide service to all police and fire departments in the Downriver and Dearborn areas.
Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars remembered the city’s retired chief with a moment of silence during his State of the City Address on Thursday.
A memorial gathering is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, February 5, at the Taylor Chapel of Howe-Peterson Funeral Home, 9800 S. Telegraph Road. A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. followed by a wake at the Orlando Familia Banquet Center in Riverview.
The Chief is survived by sons Todd and Luke (Sarah); five grandchildren, Brooke, Jackson, Noah, Cody and Anna; sister Martha and brothers Robert and Gwen. He was predeceased by his parents Cecil and Vera.
Mr. Bonner was born on January 20, 1946, in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. His parents moved the family to Taylor to a home in the area of Eureka Road and Oldham Street.
Glenn Bondy – who would strike up a 60-year friendship with Mr. Bonner that continued through their days at the Police Department and through his passing – remembers young Tom playing baseball at Eurekadale Elementary School and other sports throughout the area during the mid- to late 1950s.
Mr. Bonner would continue playing athletics throughout adulthood – even playing quarterback for a Downriver police football team in the early 1970s – and passed on his love of sports to his sons, who thrived from Little League on. Both boys were coached by their dad in youth baseball and were high school standouts. Son Luke played baseball at the University of Michigan then played minor league professional ball.
Mr. Bonner graduated from Taylor Center High School in 1964 and joined the Police Department in 1969, perhaps inspired by his father, who was Taylor’s first constable. At one point, all three brothers were in law enforcement. While Tom stayed on with the Taylor Police Department, his brother Gwen moved on to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.
Former Taylor Mayor Cameron Priebe said he joined the Police Department in 1970 and soon drove with Officer Bonner in a squad car. The two also worked together in the Detective Bureau and in a unit that served in cooperation with the FBI, Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
“It was my impression that he was professional and had a great mind,” Priebe said. “He had a phenomenal memory. He knew people and he helped people.”
In 1982, Mr. Bonner and Bondy were part of newly-formed Crime Prevention Unit that often worked undercover, focused on problem areas and solved many crimes. They also were active in Downriver Mutual Aid and the Downriver Area Narcotics Organization (DRANO), which saw officers from different communities work together and focus on drug trafficking.
While working undercover on a drug raid in Royal Oak, Bonner was shot in the abdomen. It was son Todd’s 12th birthday, March 18, 1983 – a date Mr. Bonner and his family never forgot.
Todd said undercover officers from various agencies had a suspected drug house surrounded. His dad was working “plain clothes.”
“My dad went up to the house to make a drug buy,” Todd said. “His communicator didn’t work, so he said ‘Go!,’ nobody heard him. He went into the house and they started firing at him. He flew over a couch, heading toward the door, not even knowing yet he had been shot.”
Officers responded, shots were fired, a suspect was killed and arrests were made. At first, Todd said, they didn’t think his dad would “make it.” But Tom Bonner recovered and was honored for his work on the case.
Mr. Bonner benefited from becoming a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Bondy said that due to the connections Bonner made, he and a number of other officers – in Taylor and nearby communities, including current Wyandotte Chief Daniel Grant – were able to follow Bonner to Quantico. Bonner later served as chairman of the FBI academy graduates group.
After Priebe was elected mayor, he wanted to bring on a younger officer from the ranks who would remain chief longer than the few years that most officers held the chief’s position before retiring – and he appointed Bonner, who was just 38 and a lieutenant at the time.
“Overall, he did a very good job as chief,” Priebe said. “He was liked and respected. He worked hard on training people. He provided supervision. He fought for his budget, new cars and new equipment.
“He managed during a difficult time when the department was growing. We went from 78 officers and no cadets and ultimately had 106 officers and 20 cadets. There was an improvement in manpower and training. He was also great dealing with the community. He was liked by some, disliked by some, but ultimately did a good job.”
Bondy said Chief Bonner was not afraid to say “yes” to big projects – including visits to Taylor by Presidents of the United States, summer festivals and building a new police station. He also a good delegator and knew who to assign to a project to get it done. Often, it was Bondy, who was appointed deputy chief and eventually succeeded his friend and co-worker as chief.
Bondy said his friend also helped anyone he could.
“He said if you can help somebody, do it,” Bondy said. “It didn’t matter if he knew them or not. He would always help people out.
“He also got a lot done. He liked getting out and doing stuff. He said it was a good position to be in. He liked it.”
Greg Bzura, founder and director of the Junior League Baseball World Series in Taylor, said he appreciated Chief Bonner’s friendship and support of the series.
“We called each other brothers the last 10 years or so,” Bzura said. “He was always at the World Series and got to know people. I would travel to a convention for Little League or the bank I worked for and when they heard I was from Taylor, Michigan, they would ask if I knew Chief Bonner. They all knew Chief Bonner. He was that much of a leader.”
James Riddle, a former councilman who became chief of staff at the city, called Chief Bonner “a cop’s cop.”
“He was very much a cop,” Riddle said. “If you don’t like cops, you wouldn’t like Tom Bonner. He was a go-getter, no doubt about it. He was very smart. He did the crossword puzzle every morning – the hard one. We worked real close. The last nine years he was with us in the Police Department, we worked very close on his budget.”
Chief Bonner “had tunnel vision” when it came to the Police Department, always fighting for every dollar he could get to spend on making the city safer, Riddle said. When the federal forfeiture program was created – in which police agencies benefited financially from seizing cars and other items involved in narcotics arrests and other crimes – Taylor was the first to “take major advantage of that,” Riddle added. The additional funds were spent to meet the needs of the growing department.
Bondy said Chief Bonner’s theory was Taylor should take the lead in the area because it was Downriver’s largest community, but his regional cooperation was unmatched.
James Perry, executive director of the DCC, said Chief Bonner was the only person to serve as chairman of the DCC and Downriver Mutual Aid at the same.
“Tom was hugely instrumental in the 911 communication system and the tower cells in the Downriver area,” Perry said. “He worked to get the funding and worked with Downriver Mutual Aid police and fire to make sure we had a great communications system… It was the only system that worked when the power grid went down in 2002. We had a horrible hazmat situation at Marathon in 2002. The system has proved its worth.”
Priebe selected Chief Bonner to represent him at DCC meetings and it wasn’t long before he was appointed treasurer (1996), vice chairman (1997-1998) and chairman (1999-2000) – the only non-elected person to be elected chairman.
“He was very astute, very well respected and got things done for everybody,” Perry said.
The 36-year DCC official said called his long-time friend “a Taylor boy at heart” who “knew what to do, when to do it and how to do it. He had natural instincts. Tom was great at getting people together and getting things done.”
Perry said: “There’s no question that Tom will be missed by everybody. To know Tom was to like him. He’s the type of person that if you disagreed with him on Monday, Tuesday was another day. This is a huge loss for his family, his friends and all the people who worked with him and knew the type of person he was.”
Wyandotte Chief Grant said called Chief Bonner “a great leader” and “great role model” who provided guidance as they worked together on regional matters. Grant succeeded Bonner as chairman of Mutual Aid, which has a SWAT team, crisis negotiation team, underwater search and recovery team, major crime task force, fatal crash team and uniform services unit.
“Tom was in charge of that for many years and did an outstanding job,” said Grant, also noting Chief Bonner’s involvement with the Wayne County Chiefs organization. “Tom had the God-given charisma. He was just a natural leader. He was a street cop who worked his way up to chief. He had a knack to be able to talk to people and get things done.”
Riddle also called Chief Bonner “a great guy who was everybody’s friend.”
“He was sincerely a very nice guy,” Riddle said. “He had a very rough exterior, but he was a guy with a big heart. He loved his kids. He would do anything for them.”
Indeed. Todd and Luke Bonner said that they had a great childhood and adulthood. Despite his hefty schedule, their dad never missed one of their practices or games in their multiple sports, took them on family vacations and was very much a great father and role model.
“To me, I lost my hero,” said Todd, who works in the Taylor Parks and Recreation Department. “As a kid growing up, I looked up to my dad as someone who was larger than life. I believed he was invincible. He was the toughest person I’ve ever met.”
He said as the leader of a close-knit family, Todd watched his father give people a hand.
“He would help anybody any time,” Todd said. “He would give you the shirt off his back.
“He taught us a lot of life lessons, including hard work. There was a lot of love in our family. He told me to always look out for my younger brother, to be loyal and to be good to people no matter who they are.”
The Bonner sons said their father would buy baseball equipment for their friends, pay registration fees for other boys to play on travel teams and pay to send families on trips.
“My dad loved who I loved,” said Luke, who owns Bonner Advisory Group, a consulting company for business, economic development and real estate. “He loved all my buddies. I had a couple friends tell me stories of what he did for them.”
Going anywhere with Chief Bonner was an adventure for his sons.
“I always sort of looked at him like he was a movie star,” Luke said. “Wherever I would go with him, everybody knew him and wanted to talk to him. He was really a big personality. Everybody that came up to him got a big hug. I think he invented the ‘bro hug.’”
The Bonner sons said they were blessed to have Chief Bonner as their father and have passed on his life lessons to their own children.
“We grew up with a really cool dad,” Luke said. “He was really funny. Everybody loved him. He was really active. He took us everywhere with him.”
Upon Chief Bonner’s passing, Luke recalled all the times during his youth that his dad drew pictures of superheroes because Luke enjoyed superheroes so much.
“I’ve got a lot of good memories right now,” Luke said. “It’s great to hear all these other people say Chief was a great guy. That’s very comforting.”

Details: THOMAS WAYNE BONNER Age 71, February 22, 2017. Thomas "The Chief" Bonner. Dear father of Todd Patrick Bonner and Lukas Aaron (Sarah) Bonner. Loving grandfather of Brooke, Jackson, Noah, Cody and Anna. Dearest brother of Martha, Robert and Gwen. Son of the late Cecil and Vera Bonner. Memorial Services Saturday, February 25, 2017, 3:00 p.m. at the Taylor Chapel of Howe Peterson Funeral Home, 9800 S. Telegraph Road with Memorial Gathering 11:00 a.m. until time of Service. Following the Memorial Service, the family will be having a Wake at Orlando Familia Banquet Center in Riverview. Thomas was the former Police Chief of Taylor.

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