CINCINNATI - Cincinnati police Chief James Craig was surprised to hear Wednesday he was the top contender for the same position in Detroit, as reported by local media there.
"I've gotten several calls from family and friends in the city of Detroit who said that," Craig told WCPO Digital on Wednesday. "I didn't know it, that's news to me. I think I'm one in a group of very talented individuals.
"I appreciate what's being reported and I'm humbled by the fact that some are viewing [me] as a top candidate, but I respect the process and decide on who's the best fit for the city of Detroit."
Craig, 56, and a Detroit native, confirmed he interviewed for the position last week, although he did not specify the day or whom he met with. myFOXDetroit.com reported he met with Mayor Dave Bing and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
A formal job offer has not been delivered, but Craig did say that if any other agency was interested in him, he would "hang up the phone." Craig interviewed for the Detroit position in 2010, before signing a two-year contract to become Cincinnati's 13th chief in August 2011.
"Keep in mind it's the city of Detroit, it is home, my parents still live there, and I do still visit on a regular basis," Craig said. "It's a place that I hold dear."
The Rev. Jerome Warfield, the chair of the Detroit Board of Police Commission, neither confirmed nor denied Craig's presence in Detroit last week, but said it was the first time the civilian oversight body that is the board of police commission has been involved in the process for selecting a new chief of police.
The board hired two private firms to help with the search, Detroit-based TJA Staffing Services and Empco.
The search will be performed in two stages: first, a search to locate candidates and conduct preliminary interviews by TJA Staffing Services, and then a vetting of candidates by Empco before a final list is sent to Mayor Dave Bing, who will appoint the chief.
When asked if Craig is the top contender, Warfield said, "I just don't understand anyone can make that claim, because the search firm is the only who knows who's been interviewing for that position."
"To say he is the top candidate, we just don't know that."
Craig said he is committed to public safety in Cincinnati and is humbled by the work of the police department. As the rumors and speculation swirl about whether Craig would leave for Detroit, he said police officers and city officials have expressed they want him to stay.
"They appreciate the things that we've done together and that's compelling," Craig said. "Community members, local business owners who have talked to me and say ‘we want you to stay here in Cincinnati.'"
Last week's visit marks the second time since mid-November Craig has been involved in leaving Cincinnati to lead the financially troubled city's police department.
Craig confirmed in February he was contacted by a recruiter last November from Detroit by phone for the police chief position, but said then he did not interview and had not been offered the job.
"I've made no commitment to the city of Detroit," Craig said. "There have been no overtures, and it's not unusual for sitting, large-city police chiefs… for people to be interested in them."
Only 21 months into his tenure, Craig said any decision to leave for Detroit has nothing to do with Cincinnati, despite the prospect of 150 police layoffs if the city cannot fill its $35 million budget deficit.
"I don't want to lose one officer, but I will tell you my core concern is our ability to handle emergency calls for service in a timely and effective way," Craig said. "If it comes to place where we have to reduce our staffing levels, there will certainly be some restricting in the police agency."
The city of Detroit has had its fair share of financial woes, too. In March, the city was taken over by the state and established an emergency manager to navigate its financial troubles.
"No one has approached me and told me ‘you're our guy,' and because of that, I can't weight those issues," Craig said.
Craig has made City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. aware of Detroit's interest and has received feedback suggesting no one wants him to leave. On Wednesday, city Councilman Christopher Smitherman along with PG Sittenfeld and Charlie Winburn, all of which are on council's public safety committee, circulated a motion that City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. "immediately consider retaining" Craig "for the great and excellent work he has done."