detroit police
The city has had a reduction in homicides and non-fatal shootings since James White became interim chief in May. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

Mayor Mike Duggan announced Monday that he is recommending that James White become the city’s permanent police chief. Detroit City Council is scheduled to vote on his recommendation Tuesday. 

White, who served as an assistant chief in Detroit, helped get the department from under federal oversight in 2016. He was selected to lead the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in August 2020 because of his background in “reforming police operations and improving community relations.” 

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White said the department has “amazing police-community relations,” and he is looking forward to serving Detroit. 

“We need to have strong relationships, and that’s done with credibility in policing,” White said. 

White also praised his officers for helping the department reduce homicides and non-fatal shootings 20 percent since he became chief in May. However, he was cautious about the change. 

“One child shot is one too many, but we are on the right path to eradicate some of this violence that we’re seeing,” he said. 

Duggan said the city has shown its support for White during his time as interim chief. 

“Anyone who has watched the way James White has handled himself in the last two months feels very good about where the Detroit Police Department is headed,” Duggan said.

White said he is thankful for Duggan’s support. 

“I will forever be humbled and honored that he chose me at this crucial time in leadership to lead this police department,” White said. 

The Board of Police Commissioners recommended three chief candidates earlier this month for Duggan to choose from. Most of the commissioners have been vocal about their appreciation for White during his time as interim chief. 

Police Commissioner Willie Bell, who worked as a Detroit police officer for 33 years, said he has been impressed with the job White has done so far. 

“I’ve already seen him show that he has creative solutions to problems in our city, and he has shown a great willingness to work with citizens to make the community safer,” Bell said. 

Commissioner Linda Bernard said White is already doing “an excellent job.”

“He’s working seven days a week, so he is very devoted to Detroiters and committed to public safety for all. He’s been hit with a lot of things very, very quickly, but he is managing them well,” Bernard said.

Bernard said she has already seen some differences between White and former chief Craig. 

“Craig was very interested in solving crime as far as ‘the what,’ but White has shown that he is very interested in understanding ‘the why’,” she said. “He isn’t just looking at the high number of shootings or drag racing, he wants to understand why people are doing it so he can fight these problems at the root.” 

White came to the interim chief position with a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Central Michigan University along with degrees from Wayne County Community College and Wayne State University. Bernard said she also likes that White isn’t just interested in the “old way” of policing. 

“(White) doesn’t just want to lock up people and throw away the key,” she said. “From talking to him, I can tell he wants to actually help people, whether they are victims or criminals.”

Commissioner Willie Burton was critical of the board’s chief search and interview process, but he said he is looking forward to having a “productive” relationship with White. Burton said he hopes White will improve officer accountability and stop the use of surveillance technology, like facial recognition software and Shotspotter. 

“I will work with the new chief to address these concerns and bring about real police reform,” Burton said. 

White has previously said he has no intention of ending the department’s use of facial recognition. At Monday’s press conference, White reaffirmed his position on surveillance technology. 

“We’ll be using strong policy, peer review, and a zero tolerance for anyone who violates that policy,” White said.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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