It’s what’s called the rubber meeting the road when a dedicated and decorated law official with a long and illustrious career to his credit, is forthcoming regarding inadequacies of the penal system and it’s impact on the people that he has sworn to serve and protect. Former Detroit police chief and Wayne County’s current celebrated and revered sheriff Benny Napoleon, didn’t shy or hesitate when asked some tough questions about crime and punishment in Detroit. His responses may surprise you. -roz edward
What is your greatest challenge as an African American male charged with the responsibility of the Wayne County sheriff’s office?
As an African American male and sheriff of the largest city in the county and the state … it is to see the consistent flow of disadvantaged black and brown men disproportionately incarcerated in the jail system. I know it’s indicative of all the problems we have in our community and our society, but the fact is I think the criminal justice system over all is broken, and we haven’t done what we need to do to fix the system so that we can reduce the rate of incarceration that we see in this country. We jail more people in the U.S. than any other westernized country on this planet, and that’s problematic and indicative of some serious issues in our country. We do the same things over and over that we believe are going to impact the crime rate and it has not happened. We see peaks and valleys but the fact is that we have done nothing to stem the crime rate of illegal narcotics coming into this country. … We have to either control the flow or decrease the appetite for drugs, or we are going to continue to see the types of problems that we see now.
What are the alternatives to incarceration?
One of the things that I am very high on is electronic tethering for nonviolent offenders. … When we put that person on a tether it costs about 25 dollars a day to monitor that person as opposed to 150 dollars a day to put that person in incarceration. By our estimates that would save the Wayne County taxpayers about 50,000 dollars a day.
Was there a moment when you knew that law enforcement was the thing you were destined to do?
To be honest, I have enjoyed every job I’ve had within the police department. Some better than others, but none of them have been bad. I am one of the few people who can almost see immediately the results of our service. For instance if you get called to the scene where someone has been assaulted, and you get there and break it up and help the person get treated, we know that we have done something that has ostensibly helped save a life or save a person from further injury. … It is a gratifying feeling when you are able to do that.
What are your career standouts in your mind?
I worked extensively at one time on Young Boys Incorporated … and we were able to put that gang organization out of business. As a street police officer that was a real important highlight in my life. As an executive when I was chief of the Detroit Police Department there were several. We had 10 very dangerous criminals escape from the Ryan Correctional Institution … I lead that investigation and we brought those people back into custody within a short period of time. The most famous case I’ve ever had was that of Nancy Kerrigan, an international figure skater who was assaulted in Detroit. I lead that investigation and ultimately convicted the people who were responsible for that assault. But, what I am probably most proud of is that as police chief I drafted a crime reduction plan that resulted in a 30 percent decrease in crime. … I also drafted a security plan for the Detroit Public School system, and there was not one student shot in a Detroit Public School the entire time that I was chief of police.
What has been essential in your success?
I talk to students all the time and there are four things: character, competence, commitment and compassion. … I call them the four Cs of success. For me there is a fifth and that is focusing on my relationship with Christ.
What do you do in your downtime to relax?
Nothing. When I get the chance I just want to go somewhere and really chill out and reflect. My most precious moments are when I can just sit down and spend quiet time with the people I care about.