University names first Black woman police chief


Crystal James has been named chief of the University of Michigan Police Department, making her the first Black person to hold the position on the Ann Arbor campus in the department’s 35-year history, and the first woman chief on any of the university’s three campuses.

James, who also served as deputy chief on the Dearborn campus, has filled the chief’s role on an interim basis since last year, after her predecessor, Robert Neumann, became senior director and chief of operations for the Division of Public Safety and Security.

A photo of Crystal James
Crystal James

“I am honored to take on this responsibility,” she said. “And I have a deep sense of pride. It is a privilege to lead our police and security teams. They are professional, well trained, and understand the importance of service.”

As chief, James will work closely with campus leaders and partners to implement best practices for public safety in a university environment. She will oversee the police, university housing and museum security operations. She also will manage crime prevention efforts on campus.

“Chief James’ unparalleled enthusiasm, professional credentials, insatiable appetite for community, and the universal respect and trust shared among law enforcement officers, peers and the university leaders make her the right choice at the right time to lead UMPD,” said Eddie Washington, executive director of DPSS.

“I remain grateful, humbled and extremely fortunate to be in the position to serve as a conduit for facilitating this historical achievement for the policing profession, Chief James and her family and the University of Michigan.”

While the safety of the campus community is her top priority, James said she also is focused on community engagement and public service.

“I want to make it a priority to introduce myself to students as they walk across the Diag,” she said. “I want to chat with morning bus commuters making their way to their labs or offices. And I want to drop into Michigan Medicine’s emergency room to thank the nurses and staff for their hard work.”

James was born in Sanford, Florida, and moved to Detroit in middle school. Her mother and her stepfather had modeled hard work, dedication to family and public service. 

“My mother was a nurse and dedicated herself to that important work,” James said. “I remember her taking on private-duty nursing jobs to supplement her income, ensuring we would have everything we needed.”

After high school, James graduated from Central Michigan University and worked as a bank teller. When she thought about a long-term career, she knew she wanted to be challenged.

“I wanted to do something more,” she said. “My then boyfriend, who is now my husband, was a police officer. He asked me, ‘Crystal, have you ever thought about law enforcement?’”

Although it is a profession predominantly staffed and led by men, James saw becoming an officer as a way to carry forward her mother’s legacy.

She graduated from the Detroit Metropolitan Police Academy in 1989, and her first law enforcement job was with the Detroit Police Department.

After just two years with DPD, she and nearly 500 other officers were laid off due to budget cuts. A friend from the academy encouraged her to apply at U-M. In 1992, she was hired, making her the second Black female officer to join the university’s police department.

James drew inspiration from other female leaders on campus and emulated the qualities she thought made them successful. While on duty monitoring student parties, for example, she saw firsthand how E. Royster Harper, the former vice president for student life, interacted with students.

“I could see how students loved her,” James said. “She was a mentor. I saw how there was such a level of mutual respect between her and students.”

She also worked closely with President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman.

“I gained so much from her,” she said. “She was so personable, always willing to talk with people and answer questions. I admired that she was so down to earth and accessible to the U-M community.”

As she embarks on her groundbreaking role, James said she intends to build and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the U-M community through open dialogue and engagement.

“Ensuring the safety of our campus community is paramount,” she said. “It is not merely a duty; it is fostering an environment where the campus community feels safe.”



  1. Aspen Vetter
    on March 22, 2024 at 8:22 am

    This is awesome to see! Love hearing her story. I do believe the title should reflect Crystal James’ name specifically and acknowledge who she is herself, patting her on the back instead of the University.

  2. Pearl Romberg
    on March 23, 2024 at 1:57 pm

    Congratulations, Crystal!

  3. Aqilah Campbell
    on April 3, 2024 at 2:11 am

    Congratulations on your new journey Miss Crystal

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