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Civil rights chairman named Detroit’s interim police chief

James E. White portrait

The chairman of Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission is leaving the post to become Detroit’s interim police chief, the city’s mayor announced Monday.

James White, 53. left the Detroit Police Department in August to take the civil rights post. He was named the department’s interim chief by Mayor Mike Duggan. He will assume the post on June 1, the date Chief James Craig announced last week he will retire.

“I’m humbled,” the Detroit native said during a news conference. “If this city can take a chance on me, I can take a chance on the city.”

White says his top priorities will be fighting crime, with a particular focus on speeding, “drifting” and other traffic violations. He also said during a news conference he will balance the need to uphold the law with citizens’ rights.

“The crime plan we’re working on will be sensitive to our community, but it’ll also be aggressive to those who commit crimes,” he said. “People have the right to walk down the street.”

Duggan said he interviewed several people since Craig announced his retirement. Settling on White answered the question of who’d be the best fit. Duggan added the city is close to naming a search firm for a permanent chief. White said he plans to compete for the permanent chief’s job.

Craig has the longest tenure of any recent Detroit police chief. The city has had about a dozen police chiefs since the early 1990s, including five in the previous five years before Craig was hired. He was hired in 2013 by an emergency manager after the state assumed control of the financially broken city. Craig, who is Black and a native of the city, immediately set out to restore residents’ confidence in the Detroit Police Department, which had a history of civil rights abuses by officers against the city’s mostly Black population.

White joined the city’s police force in 1996. During his career, he ran the Civil Rights Integrity Bureau and was a supervisor in the 6th Precinct before Craig appointed him assistant chief in 2013.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights congratulated and thanked White in a statement. The agency chose White to replace Agustin Arbulu, who was removed from the position in 2019 after allegedly making remarks objectifying women.