Portland’s 18th Chief of Police: James Craig
“As we move forward, I will look to every community member for support in assisting us in making a difference in every Portland neighborhood“
- New chief takes charge – Portland Press Herald, 050209
- City welcomes new police chief with open arms – Portland Daily Sun, 050209
- There’s a new chief in town – The Forecaster, 050109
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
PORTLAND — Emotion welled up inside James Craig after he was sworn in Friday as Portland’s 18th police chief.
Moments after the ceremony naming him the first African-American to lead the state’s largest municipal police force, Craig recalled his best friend, Randy Simmons, the fellow Los Angeles officer who gave him the nickname “governor” because he knew Craig was firmly set on the leadership track.
Simmons was killed in the line of duty last year. What made Simmons special, Craig recalled, was the work he performed with young people and neighborhood groups. At his funeral, the streets of South Los Angeles were lined with people of all ages mourning the loss of someone who made a difference.
“I have never seen such a going-away for an individual. It was almost presidential,” Craig said.
The experience validated Craig’s emphasis on involving officers in the community they serve. In his final year with the Los Angeles Police Department, Craig honored his friend by starting a boot camp for at-risk youths at a middle school.
In accepting the job as Portland’s new chief, Craig insisted he will be out among the citizens, meeting with community groups, neighborhood leaders and clergy.
“As we move forward, I will look to every community member for support in assisting us in making a difference in every Portland neighborhood,” Craig said.
Craig, 52, comes to Portland after 28 years with the Los Angeles police. He replaces Tim Burton, who left the department in August.
Craig was sworn in at the State of Maine Room in Portland City Hall, where City Clerk Linda Cohen administered the oath of office. Craig’s mother, wife and daughter ceremoniously pinned the chief’s badge to his Portland police uniform, while his father and other family members watched from the audience.
“I’m privileged and humbled by the confidence you’ve placed in me to lead this department,” Craig told the audience of about 100 people, including city leaders, Portland officers and visiting police commanders from other departments.
Craig thanked his parents, James Craig Sr. and Eleanor Craig, for “providing me the guidance and inspiration of realizing my lifelong dreams of achieving excellence and never giving up.”
James Craig Sr., who was a reserve officer in Detroit in the 1960s and a member of the Military Police when he served in the Army, said afterward that he felt “great” about his son’s accomplishment. Eleanor Craig said she was very proud.
“He wanted to go to the top. That was his goal,” she said.
Craig praised Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin for his leadership of the department while the city searched for a new chief.
Loughlin said later that the department is in good hands under Craig and he’s looking forward to working with him.
“He’s educated, he has a great background, and he has a great sense of humor,” which Loughlin said is an important survival tool in the often stressful job.
Craig joins the department amid a fair degree of turmoil. City budget problems have led to a proposal that the police unions accept a wage freeze to avoid layoffs.
Also, officers shot and killed a Sudanese refugee last weekend after, according to police, he pulled a gun on them.
Craig said it is tragic whenever someone is killed, but that the event may provide an opportunity to forge relationships with Portland’s Sudanese community. Craig plans to meet in the coming week with Sudanese leaders and to hold a broader meeting soon for all members of that community.
Craig has said community forums with neighborhood groups, clergy and others will be a central component of his strategy in developing a rapport between Portland’s citizens and the police who serve them.
The department also is recovering from the deaths in the past year of two popular officers, Sgts. Robert Johnsey and Richard Betters, and its finance director, Mary McClaran.
Craig said he plans to start his tenure by meeting with the men and women of the department and riding with officers to get to know the city and the issues officers are called to respond to.
Craig comes across as warm and approachable. Wearing his new Portland police uniform, he stood at the door to the State of Maine Room, shaking hands and welcoming people as they arrived for the swearing-in ceremony.
He also will be a strong leader, said City Manager Joseph Gray. He said Craig’s leadership qualities were apparent when Gray first interviewed him and were one of the key reasons he selected Craig to be the next chief.
Craig told the city’s police officers that he hopes to inspire them to be a model for departments across the country.
“We will constantly find ways of making our work more efficient, safe and responsive to those we so humbly serve,” Craig said. “As we serve, we will always show the highest level of professionalism and compassion for all people.”
Craig’s arrival was welcomed as a significant moment in the city’s history by many in the audience.
Rachel Talbot Ross, president of Portland’s NAACP chapter and a ninth-generation Mainer, said Craig’s induction as police chief is inspirational.
“It shows we’ve come quite a long way. No matter what your background is, you get to witness history and be proud of that,” she said.
She noted that Craig is joining the department at a tumultuous time and the job won’t be easy, as evidenced by the anxiety felt in the Sudanese community over last weekend’s shooting.
“Any time members of the community are fearful and feel distrust or that there are biases, then there’s a lot of work to be done,” she said. “I know members of the community are eager to support Chief Craig and work with him and be as supportive as possible, but there are still a lot of real issues and real challenges in our community that need to be addressed.”
Officers say they are eager to draw on Craig’s experience in a large department.
“It’s been a long time since we had a real outside perspective. I think it’s healthy for any organization to have a different perspective,” said Lt. Bill Preis, head of the daytime directed-patrol team. “In police work, the LAPD has often been on the cutting edge, and I think the officers are excited.”
Craig’s first day on the job will be Monday. He is renting a home while his wife, Mary Craig, tends to her business in Los Angeles before moving to Portland.
As he prepared to take his family on a tour of the police station and then out to Portland’s islands, Craig said his friend Simmons would have been proud of his accomplishment.
“He was one of my biggest cheerleaders,” Craig said. “I know he’s looking down and smiling on this day. I feel his presence.”
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
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