To say Detroit’s newest police chief, James Craig, has his work cut out for him is an understatement. To even suggest that he can turn things around quickly would be exerting overconfidence on an institution whose troubles in the last four years are no secret.
To state that he can reduce crime in very little time would amount to building castles in the air.
Because it seems like the deck is stacked against Craig. He is going to be taking over at a time when morale at the department is at an all time low, crime is at its worst, and the public image of the department is reeling from past scandals involving the top brass which has made the Detroit Police Department susceptible to all kinds of ridicule, and there is a lack of public faith in the men and women in blue who are charged with making Detroit safe.
Added to this conundrum is the fact that every other chief who came before him promised a lot changes with renewed vigor and then lasted for only 12 months or less. The rotating doors, watching the coming and going of four police chiefs in four years at 1300 Beaubien has had a debilitating effect on the performance of the department and on its ability to fight crime.
So what should Chief Craig do as he officially takes over the reigns of the department in July?
First he needs to embark on a “Meet the Community Tour,” that would allow him to get a better sense of the various perceptions about the department. No police department can claim to have an effective crime fighting strategy without a detailed comprehensive community policing initiative that at the core places importance on its public outreach, support and partnership rather than the routine and mundane process where the men and women in uniform are talking only to each other.
A tour that earnestly seeks public input and community support will enable Craig to build a base from which the department can operate its community policing program. Key is getting community groups and individuals who have long been in the trenches fighting crime in an effort to create a violent-free community to have ownership in the new direction of the department as it relates to its community initiatives.
Operating from the ivory towers of 1300 Beaubien without any meaningful connection or contact with the community is counter-productive and will only amount to bandaging the problems instead of tackling them head on.
Detroit’s top cop has an opportunity to switch the pendulum to a better and more effective community relation project where the police can count on Detroiters as supportive partners.
The second act should be a “Stakeholders Meeting,” with the business sector whose investment in the city resulted in the donation of dozens of police cars and ambulances. The significant contribution of the business community in that regard with Mayor Dave Bing playing a crucial role sets in motion the kind of partnership that would greatly benefit the community.
Craig should follow up that gesture with a meeting with business leaders and further explore what kinds of resources — after a thorough inventory — his department would need that can be supported by corporate Detroit. The donation of new police cars and ambulances by Roger Penske and others could be a harbinger for more positive things to come if the chief of police demonstrates the kind of leadership that is innovative and community-centered.
The third act should be “Law Enforcement Collaboration,” something that Detroit One is already doing with the various security apparatus from the federal, state, county and local levels. The Detroit Police Department is not an island that can stand alone.
In this age of austerity the department, like other departments across the state and country, is facing cuts that often make it almost impossible to carry out their duties. However, teaming up with other agencies who may have more resources than the DPD, would help make the job of the new chief less difficult.
Next we need a vision from the chief, laying out how he will work to prevent and combat crime unlike some of his predecessors. It is hard to follow any leader who doesn’t have a clear-cut and realistic vision. It’s hard to respect a leader who talks a good game but seldom delivers or provides the resources to do the work.
It’s difficult to work for a leader who talks about his grand ambitions but rarely puts anything in place that would fulfill those ambitions.
Part of the problem of the past is that various police chiefs had their own plans but they were plans that never got the endorsement of the members of the police force.
Craig’s plans should have the support of his own department. No amount of genius or creativity would make him successful if his troops are not on board with his vision. The community wants to know what his vision would be because the department is mired in a number of issues that clearly warrant an objective to overcome the challenges it faces today, including the Justice Department Consent Degree.
And we need an annual report from the chief showing specifically what happened during those twelve months, to gauge his successes and failures. The State of the City delivered annually by the mayor doesn’t give enough room for detailed conversation on efforts to curtail crime, but the chief can initiate an annual gathering where he speaks to the entire city about crime prevention and what needs to be done in the coming year and beyond.
Detroit needs to hear from their chief of police and this annual “State of Public Safety” report would allow for a more thorough examination on how to ensure the safety of the city’s residents. Given what they have gone through in the last couple of years with crime and other issues, it is time to hear periodically from the chief of police about how his department is battling the problem instead of the press conferences where police are reacting to crime incidents.
And finally, Chief Craig should initiate a monthly roundtable interview with the media, laying out in exact terms what is being done from his office to address the many problems the department and city face. Those media roundtable interviews would allow for the press to put tough questions to the police chief with him responding accordingly.
A successful chief of police is one who is innovative, willing to step out of the traditional boundaries of police operation and keep an ear to the ground about what the police department needs to continually do to stay ahead of fighting crime.
With the rate at which crime has hijacked people’s lives in Detroit, can James Craig show us that he can not only perform beyond measure, but be the fulfillment of a police chief that the city has long romanticize? One who is tough but sensitive, yet understands where the city needs to be and how the police department can help take us there?