Although James Craig is Detroit’s newest Police Chief, he is no newcomer to the city. “I’ve come home,” he says. Craig began his law enforcement career in 1977 with the Detroit Police Department and will begin his new role there on June 22. His spent 28 years at the Los Angeles Police Department and served as chief in Portland, Maine, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Craig said he is excited to come back to his hometown. “I’m committed to reducing violence in this city,” he said. With 386 homicides in 2012, Detroit had one of its highest yearly homicide rates in almost 20 years. And, Craig says, “I’m committed to making this a premier police agency.” He especially wants to boost morale in the department, where police officers have endured pay cuts and longer shifts.
He is a strong believer in community policing and having sworn officers out in the field. “If you’re a police officer with a gun and you’re sworn and you’re full duty, you need to be in the field,” he said, noting that Detroit has sworn officers working in non-field-related assignments.
Craig, who is African American, is filling the position vacated when former Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. retired amid a sex scandal. Craig’s hiring has been controversial: Mayor Dave Bing thought promoting an inside candidate might be better for department morale, while Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr wanted an outside “change agent” who could dramatically change the department.
Craig says he is ready to meet the challenges, noting that he worked with gangs in Los Angeles, handled immigrants’ mistrust of the police in Portland, and dealt with both race problems and low police morale in Cincinnati.
He knows he can’t solve Detroit’s problems alone. “It’s going to take more than me to get this done,” Craig explained at a press conference. “It’s going to take the men and women of this police department. This is a good police department…but it’s also going to take this community. It’s time to roll those sleeves up. This is not a hopeless situation.”
One important goal is ending the federal consent decrees that the Detroit Police Department has operated under since 2003. In 2000 and 20001, the Detroit Free Press ran a series of articles about questionable police shootings, illegal dragnet arrests of possible witnesses to homicides, and mistreatment of inmates in police lockups. After performing its own investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice mandated federal monitoring of police practices.
Craig believes that both Detroit and Michigan are ready for change. “People from the state that I spoke to, folks from the city that I talked to; everybody is passionate about the same thing….They want to turn the police department around.” His outlook is a mixture of optimism and realism: “I know I’m going to get much of a honeymoon here,” he told reporters. “In fact I don’t think I’m going to get a honeymoon.”
Detroit’s police officers seem to be looking forward to the changes their new chief will bring to the department. Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said he was “very excited” to hear Craig would be the next chief. In a discussion with Craig in recent weeks, Diaz said, “We welcome him back to the city of Detroit.”
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcemen