Detroit police chief plans retirement, may discuss future

DETROIT — Police Chief James Craig on Monday plans to announce his retirement as head of the city’s police department and possibly discuss his future plans, which could include a run for political office.

Craig, who was scheduled to speak at a news conference, has had the longest tenure of any recent Detroit police chief. He was hired in 2013 by an emergency manager after the state assumed control of the financially broken city.

The Detroit native immediately set out in to restore residents’ confidence in the department, which had a history of civil rights abuses by officers against the city’s mostly Black population.

Detroit had about a dozen police chiefs since the early 1990s and five in the previous five years before Craig was hired. Several were forced out amid allegations of wrongdoing.

Before taking the Detroit job, Craig was Cincinnati’s chief starting in 2011 after being hired in 2009 to lead the Portland, Maine, police department. Craig served 28 years in Los Angeles after starting his police career as an officer in Detroit in 1977.

Craig, 64, has railed against the numbers of illegal guns on Detroit streets while being an outspoken proponent of the Second Amendment. Following a number of justifiable shootings or those done in self-defense, Craig said in 2014 that Detroit residents had the right to arm themselves as a form of protection.

“Detroiters are fed up,” he said at the time. “They’re fed up with violence. I’m not encouraging violence, and in fact, I’m about the business of identifying those violent perpetrators that carry illegal guns.”

He also has pushed back against rhetoric calling for cities to defund police departments following last May’s death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Detroit was an exception to the violent protests around the U.S. a year ago after Floyd’s death, but the city was sued by activists who said officers used excessive force to keep protesters in line.

Craig’s retirement is “good for the people, good for the city,” said Kenneth Reed, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, which often has been critical of the department and how officers have treated city residents.

“He came in early on and he encouraged people to arm themselves,” Reed said. “He did not have a crime-fighting plan and never had.”

In 2018, Detroit had 261 homicides — the fewest in decades. That year there were about 750 nonfatal shootings in the city of more than 672,000. But last year, the city topped 300 homicides. Non-fatal shootings also were up.

Republicans hope Craig decides to challenge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in 2022.

“Chief Craig would bring a whole new level of leadership that is exciting,” said Meshawn Maddock, co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party.

To date, five Republicans have formed gubernatorial campaign committees. All are lesser-known candidates without major government or political experience.

Others considering whether to run include businessman and Iraq War veteran John James, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2020 and 2018, and businesswoman Lena Epstein, who ran for a suburban Detroit congressional seat in 2018.

Whitmer, who is expected to seek re-election, had $3.5 million in her campaign account as of Dec. 31.

Associated Press reporter David Eggert in Lansing contributed to this story.