NewsMetro Detroit NewsInvestigations

Actions

Craig readies to enter gov's race, says he has 'evolved' on COVID-19 precautions

Ex-DPD chief softens stance on masks, says vaccines should be optional
Posted at 6:03 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 18:42:02-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Forty-seven years since he was a student there, James Craig returned to Cass Tech High School in Detroit—one day before he’ll announce he’s running for Governor.

Craig says what he learned at one of Detroit’s premier public schools made his candidacy possible.

“I went to the (police) academy at 19-years-old,” Craig said. “You had to be disciplined. Focused. All the things that I learned here at Cass Tech really paid off.”

Craig traded in a job as an engineer for a 44-year career in law enforcement—including eight years as Detroit’s chief—that will serve as the foundation of his candidacy.

In an interview today with Channel 7’s Ross Jones, Craig criticized Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown of businesses and schools during the pandemic’s first year and promised that, if he were elected, he’d bring more voices to the table.

“Leading is critical,” he said. “When I look at some of the most effective organizations in our country, it’s really about leading.”

The former chief said he understands the necessity of compromise and did so as Detroit’s top cop, reaching out to activist groups in the years before last year’s protests and forming relationships that he said kept Detroit safe.

“Those same activists that I reached out years before and built relationships with, they were on the grounds with us,” Craig said. “They were there to support us. They did not want to see this city burn.”

As police chief, Craig was one of the first to be stricken with COVID-19, and one of the first in the city to be vaccinated.

He was adamant about wearing masks, even scolding reporters who didn’t wear theirs.

But today as a candidate, his position on COVID-19 precautions has changed.

“I strongly support being vaccinated,” Craig said, but added later: “I am about freedom and I do believe strongly that we shouldn’t force people to wear masks, and we shouldn’t force people to get vaccinated.”

But when the pandemic forced 650 of his officers were in quarantine, Craig himself mandated masks department-wide.

“I can evolve and change,” Craig said. “Nobody knew. We didn’t want our officers to get sick.”

“Do you think masks don’t work anymore?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I’m not saying they don’t work,” Craig said, before adding that he now believes they should be optional, not required.

Craig’s eight years as chief includes an array of accomplishments from vastly improved

911 response times to huge reductions in part one property crimes and vastly improved morale throughout the department.

But his record on violent crime presents more of a mixed bag.

Between 2013 and 2020, carjackings plummeted from 782 in 2013 to 221 last year while robberies fell from 4,474 to 1,843 during the same time period. The number of rapes fell slightly from 650 to 609.

But the number of homicides was essentially flat from Craig’s first year to his last along with non-fatal shootings, which rose slightly.

The number of aggravated assaults soared from 8,797 in 2013 to 12,003 last year.

Craig stressed that violent crime increased nationwide in 2020 while blaming, at least in part, a growing movement for bail reform that allowed more accused criminals to be on the streets.

“If you think it’s all on the reliance of the police department to reduce crime when violent suspects are being released back into our community, there are no consequences,” Craig said. “That drives crime.”

As he readies to launch his candidacy formally on Tuesday, we asked Craig about a pledge he made in 2014, just months after he took over as chief.

At a press conference announcing 2013’s crime statistics, Craig lamented Detroit’s 50% homicide clearance rate.

“That’s not good,” he said. “I will tell you right now, my view of fifty percent’s not acceptable. We have set a goal for next year of a 70% clearance rate in homicide.”

But in his next seven years as chief, DPD never once reached a 70% clearance rate for homicides. Most years, it wasn’t even close.

Reminded of his comments today, Craig said he didn’t recall making them.

“I don’t know if I ever said a 70 percent (rate),” he said.

“You said that was your goal,” said Channel 7’s Jones.

“Well, that would have been an awesome goal. I don’t remember saying that,” he said, adding later: “That would have been a very difficult goal to achieve.”

In 2020, Craig’s last full year as chief, the clearance rate was 41%: five points lower than when he took over.

Still, he says his record as chief speaks for itself—and it’s one he’s proud to run on.

“If you go out and talk to community members, you go out and talk to the men and women who serve, I feel real good about what we did over the last eight years,” Craig said.

“Extremely good.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.