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Phoenix Forward

Leadership lessons: Embrace change, says Cincinnati police chief

Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig

Early on, Cincinnati police chief and University of Phoenix alumnus James Craig decided that if he wanted to make change, he needed to be part of the change. As a young police officer, he set his sights on a leadership position so he could influence law enforcement organizations from the top, and he’s been leaving his mark on police departments across the country ever since.

In Cincinnati, where he is the first non-native — and the first African-American — to be named chief of police, Craig has already helped reduce violent crime by 12 percent, limited the layers of management and emphasized the need for improving community relations.

Finding local allies, he says, is key to police initiatives being successful — a mentality that served him well as a young Los Angeles Police Department officer. Troubled by the blatant sale of cocaine in particular L.A. neighborhoods, Craig reached out to business owners, clergy and affected families for help. Together, they succeeded in deterring drug dealers. Later, as an LAPD captain, Craig ushered in programs targeting at-risk youth because he believes by “showing these young people love, we’re saving lives."

The 36-year law enforcement veteran believes relationships are the key to any family dynamic. “You can’t police a community without having a relationship with it. It’s like being part of a family but you have no relationship with your brother or sister,” says Craig, who also emphasized community relations in his previous stint as chief of police in Portland, Maine. There, he initiated efforts to improve the department’s rapport with immigrant communities and the mentally ill. “True partnerships are when we are genuinely working together to solve problems in a community. We cannot do it alone.”

This line of thinking also applies to how he views leadership. Craig, who is earning a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership from University of Phoenix, believes in stripping police departments of the paramilitary hierarchy they typically follow. Instead of making top-down decisions, he says, leaders should share that responsibility with employees and make them feel that they have a meaningful role.

“Most [leaders] have adopted the attitude that they’re afraid of problems or wait for them to self-correct. I’m of the mind that you have to take action with a sense of urgency, especially in terms of personnel issues.” A leader’s likelihood of success increases, he says, when he or she embraces the people who are doing the work.

Case in point: Shortly into his role as chief in Cincinnati, Craig implemented a four-day work week after hearing officers were burned out working six days a week, a move that boosted morale immediately.

Craig, who also holds a Master of Public Administration, says his studies have taught him that as a leader, he sets the stage for change. “Police departments are typically very slow to change and only change when they are forced to change through a crisis. I believe in being proactive.

“Only through change,” he adds, “can we really realize true success.”

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