Interim Chief James White has served as Detroit’s top cop since June, replacing the retiring James Craig. Since then, the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) has been looking for a replacement and has narrowed its search to three candidates. They’ll now meet with Mayor Mike Duggan, who will make his decision. 

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The three candidates are White, Ann Arbor Chief of Police Michael Cox and Robert Dunlap, chief of jails and courts with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. 

“I’m very impressed with all of these candidates and the experience they are bringing to the table,” said the Rev. Jim Holley, chairman of the BOPC. “Honestly, I think our city will be in good hands regardless of who gets selected.” 

Interim Chief James White

Interim Police Chief James White interviewed for the full-time position at Thursday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting. White has served as interim chief since June, when former Chief James Craig retired. (City of Detroit)

Interim Chief White interviewed for the position in front of the BOPC and the public Thursday and has led the department since June. During his interview, White highlighted his background in mental health counseling and his experience in the department. 

White said that if the mayor selects another candidate, he will do everything he can to support that person.  “It’s not about me, it’s about the community and serving citizens, which I take very seriously,” White said.

As an assistant chief, White helped remove the Detroit Police Department from federal oversight and 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.” 

White is a graduate of Wayne County Community College, Wayne State University and Central Michigan University, where he earned a master’s in mental health counseling. 

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Jails Robert Dunlap

Robert Dunlap, chief of jails and courts for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, left the Detroit Police Department in 2008. He interviewed for the Detroit police chief position Thursday. (National Council For Behavioral Health)

Dunlap, who has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, also served as an assistant chief for the Detroit Police Department before transitioning to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. He said relationship-building is one of his biggest strengths. 

“I believe it’s the relationships I’ve built over my 35 years (in law enforcement) that have resulted in some of the strongest police-community partnerships that law enforcement in Detroit and Wayne County have seen,” Dunlap said. 

Dunlap was sued back in 2017 for sexually harassing a female deputy, according to media reports. Wayne County claimed no wrongdoing in the case, but the lawsuit was eventually settled for $85,000.

Dunlap was also in charge of Wayne County jails when an officer was killed inside one of the jails by an inmate in 2020. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) proposed an $8,000 fine for Wayne County in the wake of the officer’s death. 

According to the Detroit News, Dunlap said the county had all the protections in place that the state had suggested to prevent an attack like this from happening. 

His record was not addressed at Thursday’s BOPC interview. 

Ann Arbor Chief of Police Michael Cox

Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox spent 30 years with the Boston Police Department before becoming chief in Ann Arbor in 2019. (City of Ann Arbor)

Before coming to southeast Michigan to work for the Ann Arbor Police Department, Cox served for 30 years with the Boston Police Department. In 1995, Cox suffered police brutality first-hand, when he was beaten by fellow Boston police officers while he was working as a plain-clothes cop. 

In Boston, Cox also worked on the city’s anti-gang violence unit and on 9-1-1 response services. Cox obtained a master’s in criminal justice from Curry College and an MBA from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

Last year, shortly before COVID-19 put the world on lockdown, Cox was placed on administrative leave due to allegations that he created a hostile work environment, according to reports. However, the City of Ann Arbor concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations. 

BOPC also did not ask Cox about the allegations during his interview on Thursday. 

Cox said if he is selected, he’ll work to increase the ranks in the department 

“Recruiting and retention is pretty tough in policing,” said Cox. “You want to keep the good men and women that you have here, but you also have quite a few positions out there we’re trying to fill.”

Where do the candidates stand on facial recognition 

The three candidates were asked how they would build relationships with residents, as well as asked for their position on facial-recognition technology, which has been controversial in Detroit because of its tendency to misidentify Black and Brown faces.

Cox said he would continue the department’s use of facial recognition.

“You use the tool if it helps you do the job, but that is not the entire job,” he said. “You need to back it up with about eight other things, so make sure that you do that as part of your investigation.”

White said he also thinks facial recognition should be used as an investigative tool. He said it should be used only within the guidelines of the BOPC-approved policy.

“Any violation of that, any misuse of that tool, is zero tolerance by policy, and that violator must be addressed effectively,” White said.

Dunlap said he is in favor of using facial recognition as a tool, but thinks more civilian oversight is needed.

“Right now, I think there are obviously too many challenges associated with wrongful identification to rely on it,” Dunlap said.

Should police officers be able to be sued? 

All three candidates were also asked about police accountability and the issue of qualified immunity — a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations, according to legal scholar Nathaniel Sobel. 

White said he would not eliminate qualified immunity for police officers because it can create instances where officers don’t take action in life or death scenarios. 

“However, I think that if there is a violation of constitutional or statutory rights of a citizen, I do believe that an officer should bear some economic brunt of that,” White said. 

Cox didn’t say whether he is in favor of getting rid of qualified immunity, instead he called it “complicated.”

“I’d like to simplify it by saying if (an officer) does something wrong or they wronged somebody, there’s a way to try to make the person whole,” Cox said. “I believe that officer should potentially have to pay their fair share in some way, shape or form.”

Dunlap said the overwhelming majority of police officers are people with good intentions who sign up to serve, and therefore, qualified immunity should continue to exist to protect them in certain instances.

“There are a lot of individuals that get arrested solely because the officer was acting on information in the computer that was outdated,” Dunlap said. “In those situations, there has to be some immunity for those officers.”

What’s next

Fifty people applied for the Detroit chief job, according to search firm TJ Adams and Associates. The national search was reduced to 30 candidates because some failed to complete the application process. 

According to the City Charter, the BOPC is tasked with conducting the search — which may include hiring an outside search firm, in this case selecting TJ Adams. The commissioners then conduct interviews and make their top three recommendations to the mayor. After the mayor selects a candidate, that choice must then be approved by the City Council. 

TJ Adams was to present five candidates to the BOPC, who were supposed to be interviewed Thursday, but two candidates withdrew their applications this week.

Commissioner Willie Burton of District 5 and William Davis of District 7 rejected all three candidates in protest. Burton and Davis wanted a larger pool of candidates from which to choose. 

The remaining commissioners voted to approve all three candidates.

How do you feel about the three candidates? What changes would you like to see in the police department? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BridgeDet313. 

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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