Interim Detroit Police Chief James White sits down in an exclusive interview with Digital Anchor Andre Ash in Studio 1452.
Violent crime is up 18 percent in the City of Detroit in comparison to last summer, according to local reports.
What’s a city to do? Enforce stricter laws? Add more officers to patrol the streets? Or deploy a new tactical operation altogether?
For the Detroit Police Department (DPD), handling crime issues in the sprawling urban landscape sometimes takes all of the above.
In his first full-length, sit down, in-studio interview, the new interim DPD Police Chief James White sat down with Digital Anchor Andre Ash inside The Michigan Chronicle’s Real Times Media Studio 1452 to share exclusive news on how they’re planning to get a handle on crime in Detroit, rolling out a new initiative and so much more.
In May, Mayor Mike Duggan announced that White was selected for the job as interim police chief, a position he’s held since early June after the previous Police Chief James Craig announced his retirement.
White is a career police officer who worked his way up to become assistant chief of police before he was selected by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to lead the Department of Civil Rights.
“James White has the depth and breadth of experience that I feel have prepared him to lead this department forward,” Duggan said earlier this spring.
White, a 24-year veteran at DPD, was born and raised in Detroit, served as assistant chief since 2012 and was in leadership positions for most of his tenure. White led the DPD’s efforts to be released from two-decades-long federal consent agreements, which required the implementation of policies, training and processes to protect the constitutional rights of citizens DPD officers engage or detain.
White left the DPD in August 2020 when he was named director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) and served as a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Cabinet.
White, also a state-licensed mental health counselor, is passionate about developing crime-fighting and intervention strategies to bring down the level of violence in the community.
In the studio, White shared his vision for a safer Detroit that involves a five-point plan to address crime and nuisances like loud music and drifting (when a car driver oversteers a vehicle to let it slide out of control).
“The five-point plan involves officer presence being in areas in the city,” he said, adding that drifting is not just about people running stop signs. “This is quality of life — this is people who have chosen to put the community at risk by drifting, drag racing.”
White said that children should be able to play outside and others sit on the front porch without fear of being hit by a car.
White said that the DPD connected with community partners and citizens on the best way to reduce and eliminate the safety hazard and produced the five-point plan.
The five-point plan involves:
- Increased officer presence
- Strict enforcement of drifting
- Drifting-related vehicle recovery
- Noise ordinance enactment
- Summer crowd control/management strategy
White hopes that a more visible officer presence could help deter drifters and others who are not abiding by the law.
He also said that loud music should not be within 50 feet of businesses and vehicle music should not exceed 10 feet.
“If I can hear your music 10 feet away … you will be ticketed,” White said, adding that in addition to issuing tickets and putting people in jail for crimes they commit it’s time to look at the “core issues” behind criminal’s “really poor decision making.”
“It’s a number of reasons violent crime is up in major cities like Detroit,” White said, adding that he has spoken to fellow police colleagues around the country who are also seeing an uptick in violent crime.
White added that he also strikes a balance between proactively keeping the peace in the city and laying down the law, especially at Greektown.
White said that with the COVID-19 restrictions lifted, construction rerouting more people to the downtown area and other challenges, an increase in crime is evident in the area bound by Lafayette Street on the south, Randolph Street on the West, Gratiot Avenue on the North, and I-375 on the East.
White said that 50 percent of the gun cases emanating from Greektown are from people who don’t even live in Detroit.
“We’ve got outsiders coming in and getting involved in conflict,” White said, adding that visitors are welcome to enjoy the city respectfully, but if they don’t, they will be arrested. “Respect our community as we would your community when we visit.”
White also exclusively told The Michigan Chronicle that the police department will soon unveil a city-wide initiative to dispatch mental health experts in ride-alongs with officers.
“What drives poor decision making oftentimes is a mental illness — people who are unable to deescalate simple conflicts,” White told Ash, adding that people who resolve temporary circumstances with “permanent decisions” create victims on all ends — including the actual victims and the perpetrator’s family who have to see their loved ones locked up. “Sometimes they’re providers for the family.”
White added that the police can lock up people but the goal is not to “populate the prison system.”
“Crisis intervention training is being rolled out throughout the city of Detroit’s Police Department — very happy about it,” White said. “I can’t take full credit. This is something that James Craig, former chief, allowed me to work on when I worked under him.”
White added that Craig was able to launch a couple of precincts before his retirement.
The strategic plan to mitigate escalating issues is now rolled out in all the city’s precincts, which White described as a “benefit to the community.”
The mental health professionals are working alongside the officers on “critical issues” including domestic violence, barricade gunman situations and more.
“You’ve got that mental health professional that may be able to identify the crisis that the perpetrator is going through [and] allow that officer to most effectively communicate with that person who is in crisis,” White said, adding that officers will be trained in crisis intervention. “Understanding how to engage someone who is in mental health crisis is probably one of the tools that will change law enforcement going forward.”
White said that his care for the community motivates him as interim police chief.
“I’m going to be a very transparent leader and hold officers accountable and celebrate the officers when they do the things that we want them to do and do them well,” White said, adding that a “phenomenal” police department and community partnership is key toward a better tomorrow.
“It is an absolute privilege to wear this badge and serve this community — it is not a right,” White said. “I’m going to hire and put officers on the street and do everything in my power to drive this crime [down].”