Detroit Police Department
Chief James Barren
Detroit Free Press
via NewsEdge Corporation
With a lot of tough choices ahead, Detroit Police Chief James Barren says he isn't sure he can spare the time to unpack and decorate his new office.
He may not be there very long.
Barren doesn't know whether he'll still be in charge of one the nation's largest police forces in six months, because special elections are looming for mayor in February and May. But he's operating as if he'll still be running the show in six years.
"I'll let the six months take care of itself and then we'll see what happens," he told the Free Press Thursday, laughing. "During this time, I'm going to give it everything I've got."
Detroit Police officers are bubbling with enthusiasm over the choice of Barren. They see him as a tough street cop, who is even-keeled and apolitical.
"I'm just a police officer," Barren said. "My job is to fight crime and that's what I stay focused on. I'm not political. The mayor gave me a mission; that mission is to make this city safe, care for the people in this city and watch out for the officers. That's what I'm going to do."
Among Barren's immediate goals: boosting officer morale, exploring the possibility of reopening a precinct or two and finding new ways to fight crime with diminishing resources.
He's continuing to go on patrol with officers several nights a week.
"Morale was very low," he said of his impression of the department when he took over two weeks ago. "The troops just didn't feel they had any support from their command structures."
A painful exit, a proud return
Barren, 57, took over after Ken Cockrel Jr. became mayor and hired Barren to replace Ella Bully-Cummings, who resigned the same day former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to felony charges in the text message scandal.
"There seemed to be a noticeable change in morale overnight," said Lt. Dale Greenleaf, who works in the Western District.
"Regardless of what anyone thinks about Kilpatrick, the image of the department had been besmirched and I think it was a psychological mental drain for all of us."
Barren spoke about his controversial departure from the department in 2004 and how he plans to handle department restructuring differently from the chiefs who preceded him.
Barren's ouster as deputy chief occurred on July 12, 2004, in typical fashion for a higher ranking executive. He was called downtown, stripped of his badge and car and told that the department was going in a different direction. He was given the choice of retiring or dropping several pay grades from deputy chief to lieutenant. Then an officer escorted him out of headquarters after 31 years on the job.
"It was like I had stolen something," he said. Barren still remembers the time, in military terms: 14:20.
"A day that will live in infamy," he said.
When he took over, Barren recalled that situation 4 years ago.
"I had already made up my mind, I was not going to do anybody the way I was done," he said.
He offered executives whom he wanted to move a chance to revert to the rank of commander, still two pay grades above lieutenant. Some took the deal, some still retired.
"That was something that I thought was a fair thing to do," Barren said. "I didn't want anybody to think there was any malice or I was coming back on some sort of revenge mission. That's not me. I don't hold grudges."
Both assistant chiefs, Ralph Godbee and Robert Dunlap, were among those who retired.
A look to the future
Now, Barren is moving forward with a single assistant chief, Ronald Fleming, whose experience includes having been a deputy chief.
He described Fleming as a "lead-from-the-front person," which is how Barren sees himself.
Barren, who has a doctorate degree in counseling and ran his own counseling service before rejoining the department, said his background can only help.
"I understand the stress that the job entails," he said. "I know what it's like to be out there on patrol, on midnights, days, afternoons, in the snow, in the heat. I can relate to what the officers are doing out there."
Still, unforeseen challenges are already mounting.
Last week, Barren and Cockrel closed the Detroit Police Crime Lab after a preliminary audit showed 10% of firearms ballistics evidence had inaccuracies. The future of some lab employees could be in jeopardy.
"It's still all under review," Barren said. "We're still using the lab as an evidence collection point and we're still looking at possibly retraining some of the employees. But everything is still being evaluated."
He announced that he wanted to reopen precincts closed under Bully-Cummings and soon realized that the money may not be there.
"If I can get one back up and running, at least that would be a start," Barren said. "I think the folks in the city really want their precincts back."
Barren said he's also mulling whether to create a task force aimed at getting illegal guns off the streets.
"Folks out here are going to see more aggressive patrols," he said. "They're going to see officers out here specifically looking for these guys that are doing these stickups and these B&Es."
Story From: Detroit Free Press