Police Chief James Craig (Charles V. Tines / Detroit News)
Detroit — When a man rushed toward Police Chief James Craig’s squad car two weeks ago, the city’s top cop said he drove away — a decision police officials defended Wednesday in response to criticism that the chief should have done more.
Craig described the incident Monday at an anti-carjacking program attended by about 50 people. He said it happened two weeks ago as he was at a stop light on Jefferson Avenue.
“There are certain cars each suspect tends to (be attracted) to, and I guess they liked my police car — a police car with lights,” Craig said. “And one suspect jumped out and began running toward the passenger side of my vehicle ... As soon as I saw the suspect running to my car, I accelerated out of harm’s way.
“And then, candidly, I got angry ... I said, ‘I can’t believe this just almost happened.’ ”
A story that ran Tuesday on www.detroitnews.com garnered more than 200 reader responses, many from critics who wondered why Craig chose to flee, rather than arrest the suspect.
“So, the Chief of Police is sitting in his police cruiser, finds himself in the presence of an attempted carjacker, and his response is to flee? How about, I don’t know, arresting the criminal and getting him off the streets?” said a reader whose Facebook profile name is Adam Harden.
Gregory Bowens, who served as former Mayor Dennis Archer’s press secretary, also criticized Craig in a column he wrote for www.deadlinedetroit.com.
“The chief of police for the City of Detroit came face-to-face with a carjacker and ran,” Bowens wrote. “We are all a little bit more unsafe because you, Chief Craig, let a carjacker get away.”
But police officials on Wednesday said the man who approached the chief’s cruiser hadn’t broken any laws.
“You can’t just arrest someone because he approaches your car,” Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody said. “Maybe the guy was going to ask for directions. The chief did exactly what he should have done under those circumstances: Drive away and get to safety.”
Woody said no police report was generated after the incident.
“The chief told (the group) about that as a training tool, to tell them they need to always keep an eye out,” Woody said. “There was no criminal action taken.”
It’s not unheard of for Detroit police chiefs to be crime victims. Last year, former chief Stanley Knox was mowing the lawn of his northwest Detroit home when two men approached and asked for directions. One of the men then pulled out a pistol. Knox said he fought the man, but during the scuffle, one of the suspects yanked off the former chief’s gold necklace and a bracelet before running away.
Former chief James Barren’s house near Eight Mile and Greenfield was burglarized in July 2009, the same day Mayor Dave Bing fired him. The thieves made off with a computer, camcorder, jewelry, a television and other items.