The Craig Fahle Show

Benny Napoleon Explains Comments About Palmer Woods

Thursday, January 3, 2012

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is under fire after making some comments about Palmer Woods not really being "Detroit." Napoleon has not filed to run for Mayor of Detroit but has formed an exploratory committee. The Wayne County Sheriff joins Craig this morning to explain and discuss his comments about Palmer Woods


CF: Joining me right now to talk about this is Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Wayne County Sheriff Napoleon, we appreciate your time thank you very much for agreeing to be on the program today sir

BN: Craig how are you?

CF: I’m fine and I should point out that you have not officially declared your candidacy for Mayor of Detroit, an exploratory committee has been formed and you’re looking into it right now so I think that’s important to put out there. But I’m going to ask you a pretty straight forward question right off the bat here… Give me your definition of a Detroiter?

BN: I’m glad you asked that question because that is the question that no one had the courtesy to ask. Who is a Detroiter? My opinion of a person who is a Detroiter. you take a guy like Dan Gilbert who has made a significant investment into the city of Detroit and its infrastructure; A guy like Dan Loepp who brought 6,000 employees from Blue Cross into downtown; Pete Karmanos who made a significant move of his people from suburban communities into downtown Detroit; Jim Murray from AT&T who has a large workforce in downtown Detroit and the folks from DTE, one of the largest employers in the city of Detroit and of course you have to talk about some of the people who I believe are the biggest Detroiters, the Ilitch family who stayed in Detroit when other people were running and leaving this community, uh, clearly in my opinion Detroiters. But not just them, lets talk about my buddy Sam who owns a meat market in Eastern Market, let me talk about my friend Zack who owns a gas station on Corbin and has been there for many years. I have a friend Larry who lives in Grosse Pointe but comes to Detroit almost every weekend to have dinner and enjoy its events. I talk about my friend Joe who lives in the far points of Macomb County who spends every weekend downtown in Greek town enjoying what goes on. Lets talk about the fans of the Tigers and the Red Wings and Lions who have stayed with them for the entire time that they have been here in the city of Detroit, who come faithfully to enjoy the games and root for our home team. The patrons of the DAC, Greek town, Midtown, the Opera House and venues like that. The Detroit loyalists, those are the people when I talk about Detroiters, those are the people I mean.

But lets not forget the 700,000 plus people who also live here, who have endured the hardships and the tribulations that the city of Detroit has been experiencing for many, many years. The people who have stayed here in spite of rising crime, in spite of poor schools, in spite of bad city services and poor lighting and all the other ills the city has, those are also Detroiters and they cant be left out of the equation.

CF: Okay well let’s take that first phrase that I mentioned “its our Detroit and we’re going to keep it for Detroiters” what did you mean by that?

BN: That’s what I meant, that those people are-- all the people I just talked about are --all the people who have a stake in Detroit (and we cannot forget that people who live here are also a very important part of that equation)…

CF: Okay here’s a question then, you did say, in reference, I’m assuming to Mike Duggan, who is also a possible contender for Mayor here in the city of Detroit, A Detroit News reporter asked you whether or not his new residence in Palmer Woods makes him a Detroiter. You said, “Hell no, Palmer Woods is not Detroit.”

BN: That was a vernacular statement that was taken completely out of context

CF: Then provide the proper context sir

BN: The proper context is that that was a statement regarding quality of life, that the quality of life that exists in Palmer Woods is not the same quality of life that many Detroiters have to endure on a daily basis. Palmer Woods is a jewel of a community. Many residents of the city of Detroit aspire to live in that community. It is a great and wonderful community but it does have problems. I know it has problems because its had problems for years they have problems with break-ins like many other communities, they have problems with ( …word garbled…) But, it is in fact a community that is different in those 300+ homes than, say a community at Dexter and Richton, or Woodrow Wilson and Highland, or Dickerson and Warren or you take somebody at Grand River and Euclid or Junction and Toledo or any other place that’s outside of that little pocket.

What I was suggesting when I made that statement was that we should strive to improve the quality of life for people in Palmer Woods with the issues that they have but more importantly, the Mayor of the city of Detroit should strive to make every neighborhood as nice as Palmer Woods. I had a friend who called me late last night and actually thanked me for bringing light and, uh, attention to the fact that we do have still great neighborhoods like Palmer Woods that have been excluded from the media because the media has focused on those more distressed communities, that communities like Palmer Woods and Sherwood Forest and Rosedale Park and Grandmont and Boston Edison and Indian Village and Aviation Sub are all great neighborhoods that people of Detroit should be proud to be in, but those neighborhoods have not been on the radar screen of most media, so the focus was not about Palmer Woods in a bad light, it was like a comparison of what goes on in that great community and what we should be striving for the entire city of Detroit

CF: But could it not be read as somehow suggesting that the perspective of those living in Palmer Woods somehow doesn’t carry the same weight as somebody at maybe Fenkell and Linwood?

BN: Well I understand that …Detroiters understood exactly, people who live in the city I think, from the calls I received, understood exactly what I meant, that it’s a different quality of life. If you live at Fenkell and Linwood, if you live at Grand River and Mackinaw, if you live at Woodrow Wilson and Highland, if you live at Buick and Goethe, if you live at Dickerson and Warren, if you live at Seven Mile and Rutherford, if you live at Little Field and Plymouth, if you live at Toledo and Junction if you live at Vernor and Clark, you have a different quality of life. That’s not a criticism, that’s a fact and what we should be striving for as a community, is to make all of our communities like Palmer Woods.

Detroit will not be what it needs to be for this region if we cannot shake the cycle of violence that exists in this community. Today you’re probably going to hear that Detroit is five times the national average when it comes to violent crime. That is unacceptable. Anything that we do in this community has to be focused on reducing the level of violence that exists in the city of Detroit. We cannot be the poster child for violent crime for this nation as we have been for the last four years. That is what I was saying.

CF: But can someone in Palmer Woods though not fully grasp what the situation is in a neighborhood that may only be a stone’s throw from where they live at any given time?

BN: Well I was suggesting that their living environment is completely different. They live in a very beautiful, livable, walkable, sustainable neighborhood that is a beautiful gem. And I’m not diminishing the fact that they can’t understand but it’s not the same circumstances. They don’t have to deal with drive by shootings or drug houses next-door to them. If you’re not living in that environment certainly you can sympathize and empathize with people who do but it’s not your existence. Your existence is completely different and we need to focus on the existence of those people who are living in these neighborhoods that are experiencing a crime rate that is five times the national average. That is totally and woefully unacceptable.

CF: I get that perspective but here’s the point, is somebody from one of these more affluent neighborhoods that you talk about, one of the neighborhoods that maybe is in better shape than some of the others that you pointed out, not able to contribute something as significant to the discussion about the city of Detroit as somebody who lives at Mack and Buick or Goethe and Buick as you suggested?

BN: I’m not suggesting that at all, those are folks who have taken that statement out of context what we were talking about the quality of life has nothing to do with them being able to contribute, because they do. We have many people who live in those communities who volunteer their time to help people who are less fortunate than they are. They clearly understand that we’ve got challenges in this community, many of their kids go to schools in those communities so they understand and have the same level of seeing that someone might have sending their kid to another school so it is a contextual thing that was taken completely out of context it was about quality of life, it had nothing to do with geography.

CF: My guest right now is Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon who has got an exploratory committee formed right now looking at a run for Mayor here in the city of Detroit. We’re talking about some remarks that he made at New Bethel Baptist Church on Tuesday. Getting back to this discussion about “it’s our Detroit and we’re going to keep it from Detroiters.” What are you keeping for Detroiters, what’s the threat that you’re looking at here?

BN: There is no threat, what we’re suggesting is…

CF: But its implied that somebody is trying to take something from you

BN: Craig, that was the implication that you took. The implication is that Detroiters have to have a voice in the future of this city. And those people that I defined very early on in this conversation are all people that I consider Detroiters and that’s really the focus and I’m glad you asked that question because a person who lives Downriver who religiously comes down to support the Lions and the Tigers and the Red Wings, or comes down to Greek town or goes to the casinos or goes to Midtown they’re Detroiters they’re people who have a vested interest in this community because they’ve demonstrated it by their commitment and loyalty to a city that needs that patronage. We welcome that; we want people to come into the city of Detroit. This is something that I’ve worked on my entire career, providing an environment that welcomes everyone into the city of Detroit so that they can be safe. But if we do not make the city a safe city, that has to be the number one priority of anyone who wants to lead this community, we cannot be the poster child for violent crime in America. We have stakeholders all over the region, there are people…I have a friend who lives in Grosse Pointe who texted me this morning before I came on your show and he said, “Benny, I understand what you were saying when you were talking about Detroit.” Here’s a guy that comes into this community, owns a business in this community and he’s in here all the time, he understands the difference in the quality of life where his business is located in the city of Detroit and the difference between what is existing in Palmer Woods and that’s really all I was saying. Now because people choose to take it in a context that they want to take it, or if they want to interpret it in a way that it was not meant, I really can’t control that. But what I’m suggesting to you, is that we all as stakeholders, people who love the city of Detroit, people who want to see the city of Detroit come back, people who have invested a significant amount of money into the city of Detroit to make sure, those are the people that I consider Detroiters.

CF: Do you acknowledge though, Sheriff Napoleon, that remarks similar to these regardless of the context have been used in the past as a way to stir up certain voting blocks in the city of Detroit to get them to take your candidacy more seriously than somebody that may be deemed as an outsider?

BN: Well again, that context is going to be taken by people who want to take it in that direction. I’m not taking it in that direction, my direction is, my number one focus is to make this community a safe community for everybody who lives here, who works here, who visits here. That has to be the number one priority we have to focus on

As I talk to business leaders; they tell me that their main issue, is “look we have to have a safe environment if we’re going to get our employees to come to the city of Detroit.” They’re not asking for a whole lot, they just want the city of Detroit to be a safer place for the people that they bring in to work. They’re saying “Give me a safe community, we can create jobs that we can make Detroit an economically viable city, we can make it the great city that it once was” now how people interpreted that is unfortunate because that is what I meant.

CF: Sheriff Napoleon lets talk about this for just a second because you’ve talked about violent crime quite a bit, you are the former Chief of Police here in the city of Detroit, appointed by then mayor Dennis Archer back in 1998. Give me an idea of what you think could legitimately be done given the current budget constraints that the city has to reduce violent crime.

BN: Well I mean, we did it. We reduced crime by 30% during the time that I was chief in two and a half years, you have to use a very direct formula. You have to first focus on narcotics trafficking. If you talk to anyone in law enforcement, they will tell you that the greatest percentage of crime in an urban area like Detroit stems from narcotics sales and distribution. You have to get a handle on that area, then you have to focus on career criminals, then you have to focus on people who are young folks between the ages of 13 to mid to late 20's. Those are the people who are driving the crime rates. You use crime prevention, community policing, directed enforcement, problem oriented policing and data driven responses to the crime that exists in the city. That is what will drive our crime rate down.

CF: Okay, now, when you talked about driving the crime rate down in your time, I mean what was your level of police staffing compared to what it is today?

BN: The level, I don’t know exactly what it is today, I’ve been told that its around 2600 people. I had 4200 people at the time, I believed I was about 500 people short of what was needed to affirm Detroit as a truly safe city. Whatever the resources are we gotta figure out a way to get them, because we’re digging ourselves a hole that we will never get out of if we can’t dedicate the resources. It’s like anything else, if the number one issue you have is crime, then you have to make crime the number one issue. You have to make sure that people are feeling safe when they’re living here, when they’re visiting here, when they’re working here. There are many people who are willing to be involved in the dialog and look at our people who are in Washington and in Lansing who would be wiling to commit resources to this city to make it a safe city if they are seeing results that are equivalent to the investment that they are making in the police department.

CF: My guest right now is Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon he’s formed an exploratory committee to run for Mayor of the city of Detroit. Now you talk about the crime situation of the city as being sort of a defining characteristic for so many people that unfortunately live in neighborhoods where this is a significant problem, that this experience is different than those may be living in Palmer Woods. What do you want to say to people in Palmer Woods right now about those remarks and what they think that they should take away from this? Because the response that you’ve been getting has been really quick and swift from people who live in that neighborhood that feel that you know, you’ve thrown them under the bus.

BN: Well let me just say this, Detroit is a very small community, they have 300 homes in Palmer Woods, I would venture to say that it is predominated by people that I know who are business leaders, doctors, lawyers, educators and I have tons of friends and relatives that live in Palmer Woods. I talked to the president of the Palmer Woods Association, Craig Vanderburg. I talked to many people who live there and they understood what I was saying and they understood the context with which my statement was made. Now that I know for certain, because again, I had a friend call me about 11 o’clock last night and say, “Look Benny I’m glad you made the statement because it brought to light that we live in a great community, that is a safe community, we have our problems but it is a place that we enjoy living in. We are often ignored because the media focuses on the areas of the city that are more distressed.” so my friends in Palmer Woods, the people that I know there, understand the context with which the statement was made. It was an issue of quality of life simply, that they enjoy a quality of life that should be expanded throughout the entire city of Detroit.

Benny Napolean also took a couple of calls from listeners before he said goodbye. Craig continued to speak with the WDET community about the controversy. Listen to the complete conversation above.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press