Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks during a news conference.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Hanging in the chief's office, printed on bright white paper in lowercase letters, was a simple, powerful quote: "to protect and to serve."
It's a motto Detroit's incoming Police Chief James Craig plans to bring to the city as he officially begins work as the new top cop Monday.
On Craig's list of goals: Reduce violence in Detroit, raise morale in the department, put civilians in positions held by sworn officers, collaborate with the community, and introduce a crime statistics reporting system.
On Day 1, he plans to meet face-to-face with officers and begin meeting community members.
"There's a high expectation that I hit the ground running, and I plan to do that," Craig said during an interview earlier this month with the Free Press at the Cincinnati Police Department, where he was winding down his time as chief.
In light of news this week that Gary Brown would resign from the Detroit City Council to take a job as the city's chief compliance officer in emergency manager Kevyn Orr's Office, Craig made it clear during a news conference in Detroit Thursday that he would be running the Police Department.
"That's been made clear to me by the (emergency manager). He brought me here to do what I do," Craig said. "I'm a police executive."
Craig said it's his understanding that Brown, a former Detroit Police Department deputy chief, will play a key role in the administration. Earlier this week, Brown said his appointment would not diminish Craig's leadership role.
Craig's salary information was not available Thursday. Orr's spokesman Bill Nowling said he was checking but did not produce the information by press time.
In his 38 years of policing, Craig has traveled across the country and back.
He became a Detroit police officer in 1977, but after being laid off, went west, spending 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He went on to become Portland, Maine's police chief in 2009 and, in 2011, the chief in Cincinnati.
On the walls of the Cincinnati office one warm afternoon this month, Craig's story played out in photographs and news articles.
There was the picture of Craig as a young L.A. cop, talking to citizens and holding a sign: "Cocaine Kills! We Dare you to stop the killer!" There was a story from Maine's Portland Press Herald, as Craig marked his first year anniversary as chief. And there was a photograph of Craig with his Detroit police academy class.
Community members in Cincinnati said Craig is a no-nonsense chief, who rallied church leaders, encouraged citizens to be the Police Department's eyes and ears, and reduced violent crime in neighborhoods.
Pamela Champion, a volunteer with the city's Citizens on Patrol Program, said Craig integrated himself into the community.
"We are all in this together," she said. "That's what it felt like."
Treat officers like adults
After Craig became the Cincinnati police chief, Officer Princess Davis, the Citizens on Patrol coordinator, said she was taken aback when she was called to his office because he wanted her opinion on something.
"It doesn't matter to him what office you hold, what position you hold. The fact that you're a part of the Cincinnati Police Department, he values your opinion," Davis said.
In Cincinnati, Craig said, he implemented 10-hour work shifts, changed the uniforms and did away with an old policy that officers had to wear their hat when getting out of a police vehicle or risk being written up.
"That's part of the whole business of increasing morale: Treating police officers like adults, valuing police officers, the work that they do each and every day," Craig said. "If you want to know how to police a city, talk to the men and women on the beat. They have the ideas, they understand the work, they're committed. They just want to feel valued."
Though members of the community in Cincinnati applauded Craig, his stint in the city was not without controversy. Craig declined to take an entry-level police exam, which he argued was not a condition of his employment.
As well, an organization dedicated to addressing discriminatory practices in the Cincinnati Police Department issued a vote of no confidence for Craig earlier this month, saying that he failed to "level the playing field" and address unfair disciplinary practices, according to a report by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.
According to WLWT, a TV news station in Cincinnati, Craig responded: "It is undisputed that morale of the CPD was high during my tenure and it was not because of nepotism, unfair discipline, or not promptly addressing allegations of misconduct."
Community members praised Craig. Pastor Ennis Tait of Church of the Living God in Cincinnati's Avondale neighborhood, said Craig made significant progress in mobilizing churches. Craig said that, in Avondale, an area that has struggled with crime, there were no homicides in 2012.
"He did not come in with a whole lot of lip service," Tait said of Craig. "He came in with a lot of direction, vision and action."
Pride in city
Craig, 56, grew up in Detroit, graduated from Cass Technical High School, and is an automobile lover.
Craig, whose family members live in Detroit, said he has pride for his hometown.
"When you talk about true Detroiters, there's a lot of pride in being from the city," Craig said. "In fact, when people say, 'the city,' they're not talking about New York; they're not talking about Chicago -- they're talking about Detroit."
As a child, Craig said he was robbed of a watch while walking to school. Members of his family, he has said, were also crime victims, fueling his passion to fight violence.
Being laid off after a short stint on the Detroit police force, Craig sought new opportunity with the LAPD, where he said one of his key positions was as commanding officer of an area rife with violent gangs.
He said Los Angeles has had its share of incidents of corruption and civil unrest. Craig said he was part of a management-level investigation of a corruption scandal and, as a commanding officer, was confronted with an excessive force allegation where a person was beaten with a flashlight at the end of a police pursuit.
Craig comes to Detroit at a time when the city is financially unstable and the Police Department remains under decade-old federal consent degrees that call for reforms to curb excessive force and other issues.
"I certainly will make sure that, myself included, that we're held accountable to make sure we're adopting the best policing practices," Craig said.
As well, he said, commanders will be held accountable for knowing what is happening in their precincts, as well as, how violent crime is being reduced and what support they need.
Craig says he wants to raise morale in Detroit, where police officers have taken pay cuts and are working 12-hour shifts. On top of boosting morale, Craig said he wants to look at moving sworn officers out of positions that could be held by civilians.
"That's an inefficient way of running a policy agency," he said. "We need to have every sworn police officer that's physically able to go out in the field."
Craig said there would be changes in the department, adding he is beginning to learn who in the department are viewed as leaders.
"There's going to be a change of the leadership; there's going to me some movement," Craig said. "... And, really, it's about putting the right people in the right places in the organization."
Craig said the chief sets the tone of the Police Department.
The Detroit Police Department is no stranger to controversy. Craig is filling the position vacated in October by former Chief Ralph Godbee Jr., who retired amid a sex scandal. Godbee had taken over after former Chief Warren Evans was forced to resign after being featured in a teaser for a reality program and having a relationship with a subordinate.
"The decisions I will make coming in the door as it relates to egregious misconduct is critical in establishing the tone of that organization because the rank and file, the community expects it, and that's the kind of policing that they're going to have," Craig said. "People will be held accountable. No exceptions."
Craig has vowed transparency. He said the department will be forthcoming with crime statistics.
Craig has said he is excited to come back to his hometown.
Though he has moved around the country quite a bit in the past few years, Craig wants to be the chief "as long as Detroit will have me."
Copyright 2013 - Detroit Free Press
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