Although he’s worked in law enforcement for 30 years, WSU Master’s student James Tolbert, was surprised to discover he’d been recommended for the position as the new Chief of Flint Police Department. Tolbert had his eyes set on a career as a law enforcement chief executive for a while now, but still says, “I didn’t think it would come this soon!” At one time or another over the course in his career with DPD, Chief Tolbert oversaw two-thirds of the various departments, making him thoroughly qualified for the task at hand.
Ranked with the highest crime rate for a city of its size, Flint is sure to be full of difficulties. Among them Tolbert lists personnel challenges, reshaping and reorganizing a department that has been stagnant over the years, trying to interject secondary learning requirements in the department, and trying to implement a data driven approach to crime fighting. Despite the obstacles before him, Tolbert says he is excited about being someplace he feels like he can make an immediate impact on. Flint has, in fact, already begun to see significant gains in 2013 with a 30% decrease in Part 1 violent crimes and a 27% decrease in overall Part 1 crimes.
Chief Tolbert says he’s enjoying the opportunity to make a difference in what could be an intimidating situation. He is focusing on strengthening the morale of the department as well as its efficiency and effectiveness. He believes that operational mechanism in its totality improves everything. Tolbert says, “The question is, ‘What did we do today?’ Flint didn’t become a number one crime city overnight, and its not going to go away overnight, but there is something we can do every day. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We have to do change in a way that is sustainable.”
Chief Tolbert is implementing strategies that will help bridge the gap between the community and the police department and increase community engagement. He says, “We’ve got to talk to the people the way they are talking now.” The Flint Police Department now has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a new and improved website. In an effort to maintain total transparency with the community, FPD is regularly posting crime statistics on the city website as well.
Tolbert has been diligently pursuing a career as a law enforcement executive by constantly seeking higher education. Before enrolling in the Master’s of Criminal Justice at Wayne State, he took courses through the FBI National Academy and the Police Executive Research Forum, as well as law enforcement leadership courses at MSU and EMU. “When I had my interview, they were looking at all the factors. They were impressed that although I was in a high level in the police, I was still pursuing my education. I think that’s important, because as you rise through the ranks, the ability to know your craft and to know the theory behind law enforcement is important. Everyday it helps me!” he says.