Detroit Police Chief James Craig (David Coates / Detroit News)
Detroit — Police Chief James Craig was limited in what action he could have taken against a perceived carjacker because Detroit’s top cop isn’t certified as an officer.
Craig caused a stir Monday when he told a group of residents that someone had tried to carjack him two weeks ago as he sat in an unmarked squad car at a stoplight on Jefferson Avenue. The chief said he drove away, prompting critics to ask why he hadn’t arrested the man.
Craig has not explained why he didn’t take action, although a department spokesman said the chief drove away from the situation because no actual crime had been committed.
Also, Craig is not certified as a police officer in Michigan, so he doesn’t have arrest powers beyond making a citizen’s arrest. As a retired officer, however, he is allowed to carry a concealed weapon in all 50 states, per the 2004 federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. Michigan doesn’t require certification for police chiefs.
Sworn police officers may detain suspects based on reasonable suspicion and make arrests on probable cause, but in order to make a citizen’s arrest, a felony has to have been committed, according to Michigan law.
Although the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards sent Craig paperwork to become certified when he assumed command of Detroit’s Police Department in July, he hasn’t returned it, said Dave Harvey, the commission’s executive director.
It was an issue Craig faced in Cincinnati when he was chief there, after the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission denied his request to be waived from taking the officer certification test. Craig sued the state last year, although he dropped the lawsuit in May, after he accepted the job in Detroit.
Detroit Police Department spokeswoman Kelly Miner said in a written statement that Craig plans to eventually become certified as a police officer in Michigan.
“MCOLES certification is not required to serve as a police chief, yet Chief Craig voluntarily intends on completing the process to become a fully MCOLES certified law enforcement officer,” Miner said.
“Chief James Craig is a veteran police officer with over 36 years of experience,” Miner said. “Chief Craig is no stranger to constitutional policing and proper policing tactics.”
Although the state doesn’t require certification for police chiefs, most of the state’s chiefs are certified, Harvey said.
“The vast majority of the chiefs (in Michigan) are certified, although we’ll occasionally get somebody who isn’t,” Harvey said. “It depends on their employment agreement with their city. Are they expected to be a police officer, or an administrator? In smaller agencies, where chiefs have to go out and perform police work, they need to be certified. But in larger agencies, it’s not as crucial.”
Craig began his career in Detroit in 1977, although his certification as a Michigan officer expired 18 months after he left in 1981 to become a Los Angeles cop.
To become certified in Michigan, applicants must pass a multiple-choice written test and qualify with both a handgun and long gun, Harvey said.
“There’s a weeklong training class that focuses on legal issues,” Harvey said. “We encourage officers who haven’t been trained in Michigan, or who’ve been gone for a long time, to attend the class, but it’s their choice. But if they fail the written test twice, they’ll have to go through one of our academies to become certified.”
Former Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver didn’t become certified as a police officer in Michigan, although MCOLES officials said he was working toward certification when he stepped down in 2003 after trying to take a loaded handgun onto an airplane.
When Craig became Cincinnati’s police chief in August 2011, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission waived most of the state’s requirements to become a certified officer, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the training commission.
“Craig had applied for a wavier of the training requirements given his extensive experience prior to coming to Cincinnati,” Tierney said.
“He was granted an exemption for a vast majority of the requirements, given his previous experience. The head of the (training association) at the time said to his knowledge, no other officer had ever been granted more waivers than Chief Craig.
“The only things not waived were specifically related to Ohio law,” Tierney said. “Those courses covered things that someone not trained in Ohio wouldn’t be aware of. Craig asked to have the requirement that he take the test be waived, and the commission did not grant him that waiver, so he challenged that in court.”
Craig, the first chief in Cincinnati history to be hired from outside the department, argued the test was unfair to out-of-state chief candidates. He insisted his time in Cincinnati was better spent learning the community and how to deal with its crime problem than cramming for a test given to recruits after 582 hours of training — a position publicly supported by Cincinnati’s mayor and other city officials.