DETROIT (WXYZ) — Taking his seat in the Chief’s chair, James White returns to the city where he spent more than 24 years in the police department and nearly a decade as Assistant Chief to James Craig.
“I'm back because I love the department, I love this community, I love this city, and I'm gonna do the best job I can,” White said.
White fills the shoes of his former boss, who resigned June 1. The department is also losing Assistant Chief Elaine Bryant, who was selected as the next Chief of Police in Columbus, Ohio.
“The Chief has left a very strong department," White said of Craig. "He didn’t leave me a lot to clean up, he’s put a lot of good things in motion.”
But White says he’s ready to get to work, tackling what he sees as Detroit's biggest problem.
“I think the biggest problem facing this City is what’s facing a lot of major cities right now, and that’s an uptick in crime,” White said.
That uptick in crime comes on the heels of a global pandemic. After historic lows in 2019, Detroit saw a dramatic rise in violent crime and homicides in 2020. Chief White says much of this comes from petty arguments.
"When you have a situation where someone decides to use a weapon to resolve someone bumping into someone or someone arguing about something, that's a dynamic that's bigger than the police department," White said. "That's a community dynamic where we need the communities help because I can't put a police officer on every corner in the City of Detroit.”
That’s where White sees a chance for progress. While he rejects the idea of "defunding" police departments, he does see a need for increased funding towards community counselors and social workers, along with more resources for mental health and domestic violence.
“If there’s opportunities to delegate some funding to those resources, that's something I can get behind," White said. "But just a blanket defunding really does not support what I know we need in the police department.”
After leaving the department last August, White spent ten months as Director of Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights. He’s also a trained mental health professional and sees opportunity for social workers to respond to police calls.
"There is a space in policing for professional mental health services to be provided to the community,” White said. "I wouldn't say instead of police, because some of those situations are so volatile you need police intervention to stabilize those situations. But certainly, there is an opportunity.”
That’s been something protesters have been calling for during the last year. Especially in Detroit where protesters have also been critical of the city’s use of facial recognition software, saying it misidentifies people of color at a higher rate.
"I understand the concerns and I certainly understand some of the information that has been said about facial recognition," White said. "Particularly as a person of color myself, as an African American man, that’s a situation that is concerning.”
However White says he supports using the technology if used only for serious violent crimes, not for misdemeanors and other offenses, and only by trained professionals with oversight and accountability.
"Use it responsibly with strong policy and accountability and if there’s a violation of that responsible use, immediate termination,” White said. "Absent those tools, absent those pieces, it will not be used in this department and certainly it should not be used absent those restrictions. But with those restrictions, I'm a strong supporter.”
All in all, Interim Chief White feels the department has been heading in the right direction. He hopes to become the permanent Chief, to keep the department moving in the same way.
"It’s very important to me that we have a progressive police department that is responsive to our community," said White. "That's a nonnegotiable for me."