James Craig rode into office in 2013 as Detroit’s top cop with much fanfare, vowing a culture change at a time when leadership at the police department seemed like a game of musical chairs.
To his credit, Craig has provided some measure of stability to a department where the top leadership — prior to his arrival — changed almost every two years.
During an interview when he took the job, Craig spoke extensively about his plans — including making community policing key to turning the tide against crime — to turn around the ugly situation at the department.
But four years later, it is time to ask about the chief’s crime-fighting plan. It is time to ask if his strategies have been effective in a city where continuous refrains of a comeback contradict the serious public safety issues many residents are facing.
And instead of disputing the recent FBI crime reports that identified Detroit as the most dangerous big city in America, Craig should proffer some concrete accounts of how the department is battling crime.
Tough talk in front of the cameras won’t solve the problems that compel many outside of downtown and Midtown Detroit to live in an atmosphere of fear.
The safety of city residents should not be a matter of public relations.
Instead, it should be a matter of a well-thought-out strategy and carefully implemented tactics. The department and its leadership should be more concerned about reality than perception. And the reality is that the streets of Detroit neighborhoods are not safe.
People are dying on the streets. And we are constantly reminded through tragedy after tragedy that many children in the city are being lost to gun violence every year.
The recent shootings during the weekend of the Noel Night festivities and subsequent shootings reaffirmed an inconvenient truth: Detroit has a public safety problem. And no amount of spin from the highest officials in city government can change that fact.
It is time for the chief to offer a new model or vision, because fighting crime in America’s biggest poverty-stricken city requires more than approaches to seeking to control crime. There has to be an understanding that there is a direct correlation between crime and poverty. That also feeds into a climate of fear and distress.
All the more reason why a more comprehensive approach is needed in Detroit.
Doing so would require both the men and women in the police department as well as community stakeholders to have all hands on deck to tackle this quality of life issue.
Yes, Craig has been accessible at community meetings and other forums and enjoys delving into hot-button conversations about policing. But it’s time for the chief to show that what he has been talking about and advocating for is working.
Another pertinent issue is that given the level of violent crime in this city, Detroit can’t afford to have its chief of police serving as deputy mayor when Mike Duggan is out of town. We expect the chief to always be on the job as the city’s top crime-fighter.
Thus Duggan needs to find someone else to serve as deputy mayor and let the chief concentrate on dealing with policing issues. That will remove the perception of politics getting in the middle of police affairs.
Craig’s recent appearance on stage leading a victory chant at Duggan’s re-election campaign celebration did not look good. It was a wrong call for him to make that appearance, because law enforcement should not be in the business of politicking no matter how happy the chief must have been to see his boss re-elected.
His is to lead the department in fighting crime, and that alone.