‘Chicago is fixable:’ Detroit’s top cop offers unique insight to cities’ problems

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The city of Chicago is at a pivotal crossroad.

Crime is spiraling out of control and some officers are under investigation for their actions in high-profile cases.

Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Johnson are trying to reshape a department and a strained relationship with the community.

The city is facing complex issues, but there are lessons to be learned from another Midwest city, Detroit.

It’s a city that has seen its ups and a whole lot of downs.

James Craig is a 38-year police veteran. He says he turned the state of the Detroit Police Department around when he arrived in 2013, after years of low morale, high crime and mistrust from the community.

With the right tools, he says it's something that can happen to Chicago as well.

“If your police department is in a fetal position, as it was described, not only by the mayor but by the union president, “ Craig said. “One must step back and ask: Why is that?”

Chief Craig is referring to a speech Emanuel gave in 2015 at a meeting of the nation’s top law enforcement agents where he described Chicago’s police department as being put in a fetal position because of the rash of crime in the city.

Chief Craig was an officer in Los Angeles, then a police chief in both Portland, Maine and Cincinnati, Ohio. He came back to his hometown, and to the department where he started off as a rookie in 1977.

Detroit has had its share of troubles with a long history of violence, government corruption and blight.

Back in 2008, its mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was forced to resign after being convicted on felony counts, including perjury stemming from a sex scandal.

The city filed for bankruptcy in 2013. It was the largest city to claim Chapter 9 in U.S. history.

Prior to that, Time Magazine called the city “a tragedy” in 2009.

But once deemed a city of ruin, some might call it a phoenix on the rise.

Crime has decreased as have the number of homicides.

“While I don’t wave a flag of success, I’ll say we are making progress,” Craig said.

Detroit’s downtown is surely a sign of progress. It’s now filled with excitement and people. The city’s theater district is thriving, and the restaurants are full.

Chief Craig made the police department transparent and gave virtually full access to the media. The department’s social media page is full of photos. A lot of the photos are of him. In fact, Craig’s been criticized for his tendency to steal the limelight.

“I’ve been referred to as ‘Hollywood,'" he said.

Chief Craig even went as far as televising a bust at an apartment complex that had been plagued with crime.

And while downtown Detroit thrives, the inner city remains in peril. Some of the residents living in some of the poorest parts agree there has been change, citing an improvement in police response time and more precincts in the "hood."

But there’s still room for more improvement.

Chief Craig says some of these tactics might work in Chicago.

“This has nothing to do with Eddie, I respect him and the work that he’s doing in Chicago,” he said. “But I ask the question, are the cops, do they count? Are they revered, are they Chicago’s finest?”

Chief Craig puts an emphasis on transparency and working closely with the media. He says within 24 hours of a shooting in the city, especially a police-involved shooting, he holds a press conference with the mayor.

He's also a big proponent of concealed carry gun laws and emphasizes that a robber would be more reluctant to confront a citizen if they knew that he or she was legally armed.

They rank no. 4 in the country with concealed pistol licenses.

WGN News reached out to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for this story. He declined to go on camera, but released this statement:

Detroit certainly has their own violent crime challenges but as a lifelong Chicagoan from Cabrini Green with nearly 30 years of service to this city, I know what we need to make this city safer. I am proud that we have, and continue to, invest in a crime strategy that will reduce violence in Chicago, including: more officers patrolling our neighborhoods; enhancements to training and efforts around community partnership and engagement; advocating for more accountability for repeat violent offenders; and investments in equipment and technology to help our officers to police more effectively.

WGN News also reached out to Emanuel but did not get a response.