March 12, 2010

Big-city captain new small-city chiefCONTINUED FROM THE FRONT PAGE

DAVID HENCH

— By

click image to enlarge

Today, Portland City Manager Joe Gray announced the recommendation of Captain James Craig of the Los Angeles Police Department as the city's new Police Chief. Gray will formally present Craig for City Council confirmation at its March 2, 2009 meeting. Craig is expected start with the department May 4th.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Capt. James Craig has spent the past four years overseeing the homicide and gang unit for the Los Angeles Police Department in the city's tough southwest section, pushing his community policing philosophy in a 12-square-mile district where city officials say there are 10,000 documented gang members.

Craig now is set to bring that big-city policing experience to Portland, which has one of the lowest violent-crime rates in the country for a city of its size.

On Tuesday, City Manager Joseph Gray named Craig the city's new police chief. Gray will present his choice to the City Council for a confirmation vote at its first meeting in March.

''He certainly has had a broad range of experience in the department, not only in the patrol division but also in the investigation side,'' Gray said. ''He's a great supporter of community policing, and (that) is an important part of the policing effort here in the city.

''It was all of that experience that certainly made him an appealing candidate,'' Gray said.

If confirmed, Craig will take over the city's police force May 4, replacing Tim Burton, who served as chief from 2005 to 2008 before leaving to become police chief in Odessa, Texas.

''Portland seems like a great place: quality of life, lots of opportunity and a beautiful place,'' Craig said in a telephone interview. ''As I started getting more into the process and doing my research, I actually became more excited.''

Craig, 52, said several things led him to accept the job leading Portland's police force. For one, he looks forward to the Maine commute.

''The traffic is madness out here, especially on the west side,'' said Craig, who has spent 28 years with the LAPD.

The selection of Craig, who would become the city's first African-American police chief, drew praise from councilors and from those involved in the interview process.

''I think he has impressive credentials, a lot of experience and I think he will bring progressive ideas to a department desperately in need of progressive ideas,'' said Scott Dunham, a detective who is president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents the department's front-line officers.

Dunham was one of the union representatives who served on an interview panel.

''This is a chance for us to get ahead of the curve a little bit, someone who is new, has new ideas, has no ties or debts he has to pay,'' Dunham said. ''He starts off fresh. Everything now is a fresh slate.''

City Councilor Dan Skolnik, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said the city manager's description of Craig sounds like a good fit for Maine's largest city.

''It's clear that Chief Craig had a whole lot of responsibility in the LAPD, and I think that's great for us as a 21st century city, with a burgeoning immigrant and minority population, and I really look forward to meeting with him and working with him and helping him get settled into his new duties,'' Skolnik said.

Portland Mayor Jill Duson said Craig will do well if he is open and interacts with members of the community.

''I'm looking forward to him bringing a sense of larger city business to our community. I think what our city can add is just how personal we are. We're a big small town,'' she said. ''I hope he'll be prepared to receive feedback in the produce aisle of the supermarket.''

Duson said she was not informed until some time after Gray's announcement that Craig is black.

''For me, that's icing on the cake,'' she said.

Duson, who is black, was the lone dissenting vote on Gray's choice of Burton more than three years ago. She said that the selection process was flawed and that Gray did not appoint the candidate receiving the highest marks from the interview panels, a black man who was a captain in a Florida department.

Duson said Tuesday that she thought the interview process this time was open and fair.

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, said she was pleased that the voice of the organization was heard throughout the hiring process.

NAACP members and others were disappointed in 2005 when finalist Anthony Holloway, a police captain from Clearwater, Fla., was not selected. At the time, Talbot Ross said city officials were not doing enough to recruit and hire women and minority candidates.

''The recruitment effort this time was significantly better resourced,'' said Talbot Ross, who praised Gray for what she considered to be a transparent hiring process.

Talbot Ross emphasized that the selection of Craig was in no way a ''makeup'' for not hiring Holloway.

''This is the best person for the job, and he happens to be African American,'' she said. ''We're excited about the visionary leadership and the skill set that he will bring to Portland.''

Craig will be paid $91,000 a year. That is far less than the $170,000 he earns now, but he is eligible to retire from the LAPD and collect a portion of that salary.

Craig, who was one of six finalists for the chief's job in Tucson, Ariz., which remains open, said he wasn't looking for a raise.

''Certainly I'm not driven by salary,'' he said. ''I'm driven by my passion for public service and really making a difference.'' He noted that the cost of living in Los Angeles -- particularly for real estate -- is much higher than in southern Maine.

Craig has spent the past four years commanding 370 officers in the southwest Los Angeles district, an area with 180,000 people. He will take over a department with 160 sworn officers covering Portland, a city of about 65,000.

Craig said working in a larger department means he hasn't been exposed to some aspects of being a chief executive for a smaller department. In Los Angeles, an entire division handles the department budget, and supervisory officers have little exposure to that.

His division had a budget of $42 million; the Portland police budget is $12 million, Craig said.

Asked whether police work in Portland might be too tame compared with the homicide and gang investigations division, Craig said the work is just different.

''I have worked some very demanding and challenging assignments in my 28 years here,'' he said. ''I've also worked assignments that weren't just about significant violent crime.

''I know there are challenges in Portland, certainly to a much lower scale than there are here,'' he said. ''Addressing some of those quality-of-life issues will be important and challenging -- and a different kind of challenging -- and it will take all the members of the department and the community, all the stakeholders.

''With Portland, gang culture is not what it is in many other parts of the country. It's still an issue that needs to be addressed, and sooner rather than later. What happened in (Los Angeles) many years ago is people dismissed the notion, saying these are unruly kids that are mischievous, and now it's a major problem.''

Craig is originally from Detroit. He started his police career in the 10th precinct on Detroit's west side, where he grew up and where his father dealt with riots as a reserve officer.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1981, and early on was made the lead community liaison in the Watts section of the city.

Craig developed a reputation as an officer and a leader devoted to the principles of community policing, according to his biography on the LAPD's Web site.

He started a program that enlisted community members in helping to stem the widespread open sale of cocaine in Watts. Later, he launched the first youth athletic program in the city's Pacific area, which includes both the homes of millionaire film producers and troubled apartment buildings wracked by drug crime and gangs.

On Friday, Los Angeles City Councilor Herb Wesson presented Craig with the Guardian of the 10th District Award in recognition of his community policing efforts. The award recognized his impact on the southwest section of the city, from organizing sporting events between community members and police officers to a reduction in gang violence.

Craig attended West Coast University, completing a bachelor's of science in business management in 1995. In 1998, he completed the 193rd Session of the FBI National Academy, which trains police executives.

Craig plans to move to Maine with his wife and his stepdaughter, who is a senior in high school.

Deputy Police Chief Joseph Loughlin, who has been running the Portland department as interim chief since Burton left, said he spoke to Craig on Tuesday and is looking forward to helping him with the transition.

''There are a lot of good things going forward in the department, and this is a win for the city and a win for this organization,'' Loughlin said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)