PORTLAND — City Manager Joe Gray announced Tuesday that a Los Angeles police captain is his choice to be Portland’s next police chief.
Capt. James Craig, 52, is a 27-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and, if confirmed by the City Council March 2, will be Portland’s first black police chief.
In an open letter to the city, the Police Department and the community, Craig said he was “privileged and humbled” to have been selected.
“It’s been my life-long ambition to become a chief of police one day,” Craig said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. He said he began looking at different communities a couple years ago.
“I didn’t know too much about Maine,” he said. “The more I learned the more I realized what a great place Portland is.”
Craig was one of more than 80 applicants for the job and according to the city was one of five finalists. The Forecaster reported Feb. 4 that the likely choice for the job was a Los Angeles police officer, but City Hall officials would not confirm that information at the time.
Tuesday’s announcement caps a six-month search to find a replacement for former Chief Tim Burton, who left the department last August for a chief’s position in Texas. Deputy Chief Joe Loughlin has been acting chief. Loughlin was among the finalists for the permanent job, but withdrew his application a couple weeks ago, as did Chief Frederick Ryan of Arlington, Mass.
Craig has been in law enforcement for 31 years and is a native of Detroit, Mich. He made his way up the ranks in Los Angeles, becoming a captain in 2002 and then being upgraded twice within the rank of captain. He is currently LAPD’s Southwest Area commanding officer.
On Feb. 13, Craig was honored by the Los Angeles City Council with the Guardian Award. He said the event was also a send-off for him from the community, which included testimonials from residents.
“Sometimes you don’t know the impact you have on people until you’re gone,” he said.
For the past four years, Craig has been in charge of 370 sworn and civilian personnel. His division serves a population of about 185,000. The Portland Police Department has 160 officers and 53 civilian employees, protecting a population of about 64,000.
Gray, in a written statement, said he is excited to welcome Craig to Portland. “(Craig) brings with him a wealth of experience and a sophisticated understanding of the latest in police technologies and strategies,” Gray said.
Craig is poised to become Portland’s 18th police chief.
When the city searched for a police chief in 2005, two finalists were presented to the council: Burton, who had been with the department for 24 years, and Anthony Holloway, an officer from Florida. Gray’s pick was Burton and the council confirmed the choice, but it brought criticism and questions about why Holloway, a black man, was passed over when many thought he was the more qualified applicant.
Shortly after the decision, the city modified its job application and announcement process to reach more women and minorities.
Rachel Talbot Ross, the city’s Equal Opportunity and Multicultural Affairs director, said the city is happy to welcome Craig to Portland.
Talbot Ross said the city did a thorough job getting word out through a national search for a new police chief. She said the job was posted in an array of publications and on organization Web sites.
“I personally went and did recruiting throughout New England to make the pool as diverse as possible,” Talbot Ross said.
She said Craig was the most qualified candidate for the job.
“He definitely presented the skills set and philosophy that will work for the city of Portland,” she said.
Talbot Ross said she met Craig, and likes him very much.
“He is extremely personable and professional,” she said.
Craig said he is keen on building partnerships with different groups within the community, and working with young people. Coming from a community with violent gang crime, Craig said he also expects the department under his command to get its arms around the “infant stages of gang culture” here.
He also said he is impressed with a photography and poetry calendar Portland police published this year. He said it showed the human side of police officers and that his department in Los Angeles has started talking about doing something similar.
“It is an outstanding piece of work,” he said.
Craig’s first official day on the job will be May 4, but he said he will probably start getting himself acquainted with the department before then.
He has visited Portland twice, and said that the first time it was a very cold day. His wife came with him, and despite having never lived in a cold climate, he said she got out and walked around the city.
“We both found it to be a friendly city,” he said. “People were very welcoming and open.”
Craig said he plans to move to the Portland area with his wife and daughter, and will attend the March 2 City Council meeting.
James E. Craig