Detroit police chief talks to Local 4 Defenders about first year on job


DETROIT – The Local 4 Defenders went along with Detroit Police Chief James Craig as he hit the streets to meet the people he serves. He listened to what was working, and what isn't.

He's been on the job for one year now, having left Cincinnati to move home to Motown.

"I looked at this as a great opportunity. It was a great time to be part of a solution in the turnaround of Detroit. I knew there would be significant challenges, but not once did I think this is something that we cannot do," Craig said.

His first impressions in Detroit

Craig said the first thing he noticed when he arrived was that officer morale was "at the very bottom." He quickly did away with the forced 12-hour shifts.

"I wanted to make sure the rank and file knew I was committed to them. My word was good," he said.

But the most surprising thing about coming to Detroit, Craig said, was what he calls the "culture of violence."

"It's one thing to deal with violent crime, I've worked in other cities that has had violent crime, but this culture of violence almost allowed these residents to be desensitized to violence," he said. "I felt like carjackings, shootings and murders should not be considered the norm. This is not the way life should be. So, I know we needed to start the conversation that this is not acceptable."

Craig said through various efforts, carjackings are now down 30 percent.

The achievement he's most excited about

Craig said the neighborhood police officer initiative is one he's proud to have brought to the city.

"I believe in that connection to the community. When you talk about a police department, as our personnel resources continue to shrink, we can't lose sight of what's important," he said. "If you can get out and engage in problem solving, work together with the neighborhoods, with the community, it reduces the calls to service, it creates a high level of satisfaction. That's important. We're about the business of service. "

Craig said the program allows the department to zero in on the specific needs of a community. By having a direct relationship with residents, Craig said, it's reveled what the most important "quality of life" issue is.

"While I talk a lot about violent crime, surprisingly, that's not on the top of their [residents] agenda. It might be the abandoned sofa in the middle of the street, or a vacant home, or a fuel station that's dirty that has loitering … those are the things that upset the people who live here in Detroit," Craig said.  

Any regrets?

"I came in the door, I made some staffing changes, I was very critical about status quo and the word accountability not being in the conversations of the executives and managers," Craig said. "So, some decisions I made early on, in terms of who sat in key positions, was based on information I was receiving from people who worked in the organization. Candidly, some of those decisions were not the best. But, that's one of the challenges as an outsider. "

Craig said he was told by some people he should have brought his own staff with him.

"But I didn't do it because I wanted to show that I had confidence in the people here," he responded.

Craig: I value relationships with the media

Criticism is something anyone in Craig's position has to get used to, especially when the focus is on whether he's taking up too much of the spotlight. But Craig isn't making any apologies. Instead, he equates speaking to the media as a tool to communicate with the community directly.

"Now things are very different. So I need to communicate that with you. The only way I can do that, it's not Hollywood, it's more like, ‘This is what the police department is doing today,'" he said. "Because if we don't put the message out, you [media] will, and we may not like the message."

Onward and upward

"I look back and I'm excited about the changes. I feel like I'm in the center of change," Craig said. "When I say that this has been the most challenging job I've done, it's certainly the most rewarding."