“This is unbearable. I feel like the radius of crime is just getting closer and closer to where I live. How long before someone I love is affected by crime? It is just a matter of time.”
That his how a colleague who walked into my office Tuesday evening before she left for the day described the current rate of executions taking place in Detroit, while our local security apparatus, the Detroit Police Department, appears helpless or begging for a plan that we are yet to see.
Almost every day, murders are taking place and the streets of Detroit have literary become a killing field from one tragedy to another.
Therefore, we must ask, Are we safe under Detroit Police Chief James Craig? That is a reasonable question to ask at this time when people are waking up every day to news of executions, gunshots and mayhem and there seems to be no realistic plan from the police department to instill confidence and a sense of security.
Well, it is bad enough that the men and women in blue are facing salary cuts when officialdom at city hall tell us that public safety is key. But the morale of the department, at an all time low, is colliding with the so-called austerity measures taking place.
Yes, Chief Craig has only been on the job a few months, say those who want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I also want to give him the benefit of the doubt because he just got here. I understand that when Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr appointed him he wasn’t naming a security magician to the post but rather an individual who is challenged like all of us.
However, it is hard to explain to the families and victims of gun violence in the last two weeks that we must wait for an answer or a plan to combat crime from the police department. It is hard to tell that to a father or mother who just lost a child or in the case of the Wayne University Law student who was shot. They can’t wait. They want answers, and they want them now.
As I’m writing this article there are families weeping because the lives of their loved ones were abruptly brought to a halt in the latest atrocity, the barbershop massacre, which Craig described as “urban terrorism.”
And if it is urban terrorism, where is the plan to fight urban terrorism that is not only destroying lives but also eating the fabric of our collective sense of security?
Where is the plan to take these criminals to task?
Where is the plan to make neighborhoods safe?
The Detroit Police Department received scout cars from the private sector to help boost its patrols and beef up resources of the department. In the past, crime was unreported or unresponded to because police vehicles weren’t available at the time crime was being committed.
The only plan that I’ve seen so far has been the decentralization of the centralized office when the chief announced a new team. But aside from that we are yet to see a plan from our public safety boss.
And his remarks to a group of seniors that he drove away from a potential carjacker didn’t help the public have confidence in the leader of public safety either.
Someone said to me inside a green room while we were waiting to go on air that in war the general is the last man to leave the battlefield, and the public perception of a chief driving away from a carjacker, while he was right in doing so, doesn’t present him as one in tune with the public safety crisis the city is facing.
Another police officer who begged anonymity was disturbed by the imagery of a chief of police running away from a carjacker. He wondered what point was Craig trying to prove when he made that revelation.
But what is most important here is not whether Craig drove away from the carjacker. What is crucial is the kind of plan that Craig has to mitigate the climate of vulnerability that we all have as a result of the spate of killings in the city.
I’ve never met Craig in person. I’ve only read him in the papers or watched his boisterous press conferences, which seek to instill confidence in the public about getting the bad guys.
But it will take more than press conferences and press releases to arrest crime. It will take more than bold descriptions like “urban terrorism” to combat the problems we are facing in public safety.
I’m not expecting the chief to perform a miracle. But what I am expecting is for him to demonstrate that he has this crisis under control. What I’m expecting is for the chief to show the public that Detroit will not be a theater for massacre and heinous crimes.
And in so doing we don’t need to be bogged down in deconstructing complicated crime numbers using metrics that are backed by all sorts of technical interpretations. The families of the barbershop victims don’t understand those metrics. What they know is that a murderer just executed their family members and they want answers.
I recognize that it will take more than the man who personifies public safety to make everyone safe in the city. That is why when Craig was named as the city’s top cop I wrote a column recommending that he engages the community in a meaningful way to 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.
I moderated Mayor-elect Mike Duggan’s first public conversation Nov. 9 at Detroit Unity Temple sponsored by the Detroit News based on its “Six Decades in Detroit,” project, and during the conversation crime was a focal point.
Later on, I met Mushin Muhammad, a man who singlehandedly initiated neighborhood patrols, creating security networks in his community so neighbors and his family can feel safe. His presentation at the Detroit Unity Temple town hall hosted by Rev. Gregory Guice was the mark of a man who stepped out to solve a problem and make his community safe.
The police department can utilize the work and the service of individuals like Muhammad to address crime in our community.
It definitely goes beyond Craig. And it will require the support of everyone to prevent the killings that are taking place and we must support any real plan the police department comes up with.
But leadership at its core starts at the top and works its way down. And the last time I checked, our police chief was James Craig.
The ball is in your court, Chief.
We are waiting.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.bankolethompson.com.