The Throw Down in Motown
Published: October 9, 2013
Metro Times: About your “One Square Mile” initiative … while it is rich in prose, it doesn’t seem innovative — the use of statistics to target crime-prone areas and things like that — are those things not currently being employed? Beyond 140 new ombudsmen, what in this plan is new?
Benny Napoleon: I’ll be real frank: this is something that started many years ago. We used it when I was in the police department as the chief, we just didn’t — the square mile initiative is just an added component.
One of the ways we were able to reduce crime over 30 percent while I was chief was to use these very same techniques that I’ve [always] employed, but the One-Square-Mile initiative is something that came about as I was doing research when I was teaching college. Some communities were having similar kinds of issues and they broke their community-policing component down to this square-mile initiative — it really worked in this one community on the East Coast; the name escapes me.
… The only way you’re going to reduce crime in the community is to use community policing, crime prevention, data-driven approach to crime, directed enforcement and problem-oriented policing. Those work, and on top of that, adding in the square-mile component is going to really have a major and immediate impact on quality of life in the community.
MT: Not knowing the size of that East Coast community, you’re saying the ombudsman component can be effectively scaled to a city the size of Detroit?
Napoleon: Yes, on this large of a scale it will work. It’s like anything else; the example I like to use is the triangle offense that Phil Jackson won six NBA championships with. It’s obviously a great offense because it won six championships, but … you have to have the right people in place. The plan is solid, but you need the right people to run it, which is where leadership is important.
And I tell you, if you drive it, you’ll see this — it’s not that much of a space, and it’s really like creating 130 small towns in the city of Detroit with their own kind of town marshal. And that person kind of just knows everybody in the neighborhood, knows the business people — and they’re there.
Non-emergencies are the issues driving Detroit’s 1.5 million calls for service, and also driving the crime rate in the city of Detroit with nuisance stuff. When you start taking care of those small things, that’ll leave the majority of the department to handle the big stuff, and then focusing on that afterward will help drive the crime rate down.
MT: Your opponent has talked about incentivizing as a way to truncate the city and build pockets of density from those homeowners in outlying areas.
Napoleon: I understand the concept. If we want to — people who are living in the sparsely populated areas — if we want to get them out of there so that’s an area the city doesn’t necessarily have to worry about supplying emergency city services to, we incentivize them to move into another part of the city. As long as people are doing it willingly, I’m OK with that. … But I’m very sensitive to the fact that you have a lot of people who have been in their homes for decades, and to just uproot them and move them someplace strange without their permission and acquiescence is problematic for me.
MT: Have you spoken with Kevyn Orr yet?
Napoleon: I met him for the first time … when I was on MSNBC. … I spoke to him — it was very casual: “Hello, how you doing, welcome to Detroit” — and stepped on.
MT: Should you take office in January, how many of your initiatives can you implement with the emergency manager still in control of city government?
Napoleon: First of all, I’m hoping he’ll be gone. I believe that the federal court will determine that he’s here illegally. I am a lawyer; my constitutional framework says that you cannot impose the will of the governor over the will of the people, and so I just don’t believe that [allowing an emergency manager] will withstand constitutional scrutiny.
But let’s say it does … Kevyn Orr has demonstrated very clearly that managing the affairs of city government is not something he’s either willing to do or capable of doing. That’s why he hired [former Detroit Councilmember] Gary Brown — the quasi-city manager. And if he recognizes that those are his limitations, I think that he should defer the running and operational aspect of city government to someone who has way more experience than he does — and way more than Gary Brown does. And that’s not a knock on Gary, that’s just a fact. So I would hope that [Orr] would understand that people have elected a mayor, a mayor who’s capable of running this community and running city government. I’ve done it.
I ran the largest department in city government with the second-largest budget … did it on time and within budget and was impactful on crime.
MT: Speaking of budgets, when you were running the police department, you were successful in reducing crime, but at a financial cost — there were some budget overruns.
Napoleon: There were no budget overruns.
MT: No? You were always within budget?
Napoleon: The only area that I exceeded my budget was overtime, and that was a structural deficit that they built in every year … they were giving me an overtime budget from 1960 and it was 1998, so I argued it every time just like I’m arguing it right now with the accountant. I mean, you give me a budget that you know I can’t meet, so why would you even do that?
I don’t have a lot of affection for accountants. You can quote me on that, because I don’t understand why they do what they do. In the law, we always talk about what’s reasonable — it doesn’t make any sense to me to give somebody an overtime budget that they can’t meet. That doesn’t make sense. … I’ve dealt with budgets all my life and I still don’t understand why they make budgets the way they make them. I think they hide money and they use trickery and everything else. That’s just my own personal opinion.
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