The MT interview with Benny Napoleon
Published: July 24, 2013
After rising through the ranks, Benny Napoleon, at the age of 43, became the youngest police chief in Detroit’s history. Holding a law degree, he has experience as a business executive, and served as assistant Wayne County executive. He’s currently Wayne County’s sheriff.
Metro Times:Why do you want to be mayor?
Benny Napoleon:The city of Detroit is in a very serious and critical point in its history. I believe that the person who is elected mayor during this period will shape the course of this city for decades to come. I believe the city needs leadership that is strong, leadership that is tough. Leadership that understands this community; that understands what it’s been like to live in the city of Detroit. Someone who’s experienced things that Detroiters have experienced — streetlights that have been out, abandoned homes, potholes in the streets, grass that has not been cut, exposure to the violence that we see in our community, but also someone who has real strong roots and history in this community, someone that can galvanize this community and bring it together to move it forward in a very positive way; because it’s going to take unification to do that.
It’s going to take not just the people who are coming in and creating businesses but it’s also going to take the residents to be supportive. It’s going to take the residents to stand up and do some things, quite frankly, that they may not be used to doing. In addition to that, I believe that leadership at this point in time is critical. We need someone who understands the city of Detroit, finances, understands city government. I started out as 19-year-old civilian fingerprint technician in the identification section as a police cadet. Rose up through the ranks to the lead the largest department in city government with the second-largest budget. I understand how the city has been working and I understand that there are many things that have to be fixed if we’re going to move forward. Some of the things that just come to mind immediately is we haven’t effectively utilized technology to a great extent. Our purchasing has to be changed; the permitting and licensing things have to be changed, but we must affirm the city of Detroit as a safe city. If we don’t do anything, that has to happen.
MT:There are other people in this race that have long histories in the city and experience in city government. Why you in particular?
Napoleon:None as long as I have … I’ve spent a lifetime here. I’ve spent 26 years plus in city government, [and I’ve led] the largest agency in city government. I had over 5,000 employees and a budget of $400 million. I don’t think there’s anyone else in this race who has experience in city government who can say that, so there’s a difference. The education, the leadership, the training, the experience, I have it all.
MT:When you were police chief, there was the Merrick Bobb report that dealt with problems regarding police shooting people, and problems with detention, among other things. One of the problems that was identified involved the way police shootings were being investigated by the department, and the result was a consent agreement with the Justice Department. Do you think the voters should be concerned about that part of your history?
Napoleon:Absolutely not, because first and foremost, I, along with Mayor Archer, invited the feds in. Not one of those shootings was determined to be improper, and none of the investigations were determined to be improper. That is not why the feds came in, so let’s get a clarification on that. The feds came in because of the conditions of confinement, and the conditions of confinement were issues we had known about for decades, and we had attempted to remedy for many years. It all came down to an issue of money, but not one of those shootings were determined to have been improperly investigated or not justified.
MT:Certainly the rate of shootings by police has decreased drastically since that, hasn’t it?
Napoleon:That’s possible. I don’t know the answer to the question.
MT:I mean the feds came in and instituted changes because of the way things were being run.
Napoleon:Oh, absolutely — your information is totally incorrect. The changes were geared towards the conditions of confinement; that’s the issue that they dealt with, nothing to do with shootings.
MT:The feds didn’t change the way shootings involving police are investigated, moving the investigations from homicide to internal affairs?
Napoleon: It doesn’t matter; the police are still investigating them.
MT:Evidently it does matter if the feds said it needed to be changed.
Napoleon:The police officers are still doing the investigation, and an investigation is an investigation. It would’ve been different if they said they were going to give it to a different agency, but they didn’t say that. They just said it’s going to be taken from here to here.
MT:Because internal affairs is trained and used to investigating other police officers.
Napoleon: That’s not true. They’re not trained to do homicide investigations and that’s what you don’t understand. A homicide investigation is a much different investigation than any other corruption kind of investigation. They [the Justice Department] just said, “OK just for the sake of appearance, take it out of homicide and put it into internal affairs.” That’s all just a facade. … They never once said one of those investigations were improper and I challenge you to find out where they did.
MT:OK. What skills do you bring to the position that you think would help you succeed as mayor?
> Email Curt Guyette