Q&A: Former Cincinnati police chief James Craig offers advice to successor

CINCINNATI - James Craig led the Cincinnati Police Department from Aug. 2011 to May 2013. He was the Queen City's first African American police chief and also the first to be hired from outside the department.

WCPO reporter Jason Law spoke to Craig about his successor, Jeff Blackwell, and what advice he has for the 51-year-old from the Columbus Division of Police.

WCPO: What are the biggest challenges Mr. Blackwell is going to face in Cincinnati?

Chief James Craig: Leaving Cincinnati and having the chance to work with some of the best police officers, the hard working men and women who wear the uniform, certainly the morale was high. Now they're faced with the uncertainty of a new leader. I think it's important that Chief Blackwell build on that and continue to place focus on the police officers. I think doing that will keep that momentum going forward.

If one is looking for some advice I'd say, 'Stay focused on supporting the men and women and continue to build those strong relationships in the community.'

You were an outsider coming in and you had to prove yourself to the men and women of the Cincinnati Police Department. Will that be difficult for Blackwell, as another outsider, to prove that he deserves this job?

JC: Certainly police officers respond to a leader based on the credibility you bring to the table. I had the good fortune of having spent 28 years in a premier law enforcement agency [Los Angeles Police Department]. I think what it really comes down to is how quickly you can build relationships with people and establish trust. If you do that, whether you're in[ternal] or out[side], it really makes no difference.

If you look at the Cincinnati Police Department, it has a rich culture of 209 years. Certainly culture is a big thing. Someone coming in has to understand and embrace the culture. Really, that transition can be made easier by establishing trust.

Blackwell is also the second African-American chief after you. Is that significant to you?

JC: It's not significant to me. Frankly, what's important to Cincinnati police officers is someone who is quality, someone gives them respect...[Being] the first African-American chief after more than 209 years, coming in there was a lot of unknown. If you were to talk to the men and women who work there in the community, I had the fortune of assimilating rather quickly into the department and into the community.

I left Cincinnati with a lot of great feelings about the city and the people that work there. I think about the city now. I call it one of my homes. I think building trust will be key for the new chief coming in.

Was there ever any issue or conflict because you are an outsider or an African-American?

JC: The only conflict I had--and it's no secret--was with the state of Ohio over my decision not to take entry-level tests. Some of the residents--not in the city of Cincinnati I might add--but folks who live in outlying districts who for some reason had a concern about my decision. Looking back, did it affect my ability to lead the Cincinnati Police Department? I would let your viewers be the judge of that.

Otherwise, in terms of my race and being the first outsider, I built some great relationships with people. I have no regrets.

Do you know Mr. Blackwell?

JC: I think we met. I have not had a conversation with him during the [application] process or now since he's been named chief. We have not had a conversation about Cincinnati. I am certain he will reach out at some point and we'll have a conversation.

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