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.
MT: You’ve garnered a lot of endorsements — a majority of them seem to be from organized labor and politicians …
Napoleon: Those are really basically the only endorsing bodies other than the clergy — and I’ve received those too. I’ve received a significant number of elected officials who’ve endorsed me. Both of the sitting current congressmen in Detroit have endorsed me; the county clerk has endorsed me; the prosecutor has endorsed me; most of the state reps and state senators who represent Detroit have endorsed me, as has almost unanimously the black church in this community.
MT: The question was really about your efforts in establishing relationships with the business class.
Napoleon: I am a person who has been in management most of my adult life. I became a supervisor at 27 years old, so I’ve been on the management side for the last 31 years, but I also understand that any organization is only going to be as successful as the people who are in it.
… I have always been pro-working people, because that’s what makes up the strong middle class that we have in this country. But that does not mean that I’m anti-business. I believe the two have to co-equally exist with a mutual benefit in mind, and if you’re a businessperson, that’s to make money, and I’m not opposed to that.
MT: How do you ensure Detroit doesn’t backslide into arrearage when you ultimately inherit a city that, by all measures, will emerge from bankruptcy solvent but broke?
Napoleon: We have to reinvent ourselves; there’s no question. We have to make sure that the things that got us here we don’t engage in again, and fundamentally, I believe the biggest misstep that this city has made is failing to affirm Detroit as a safe city...
MT: Are you suggesting that Detroit’s problems are more an issue of perception over a reality that needs to be fixed?
Napoleon: There’s a combination of both. The perception is always the reality because if I believe it, it’s true. But the reality is that there are things that need to be changed — policies, procedures and practices need to be changed in city government.
MT: … The latest poll numbers out show —
Napoleon: I know what they are; you don’t have to.
MT: How do you make up ground like that?
Napoleon: Same way Kwame Kilpatrick did when he ran against Freman Hendrix after the primary. [Kilpatrick] was 31 points behind two weeks out. Same way Coleman Young did it against John Nichols when he was 30 points behind two weeks out. There’s a path to victory here, and we know what it is, and we’re focusing very closely on that path to victory.
MT: I don’t recall that Coleman Young campaign, but I do remember the Hendrix campaign — it got pretty negative at the end.
Napoleon: We’re only four weeks out, and we have to tell the story — we have to tell the truth — and I don’t think telling the truth is negative. I think telling the truth is just telling the truth, and we will tell the truth, and if someone perceives that as being negative, then that’s unfortunate. Because as long as it’s true, it ain’t negative.
MT: Are you saying you haven’t been telling the truth so far?
Napoleon: When you do a side-by-side comparison of my opponent and me, someone may look at that and say well [Benny’s] gone negative; no, I’m just reciting the facts. This is who he is and this is who I am, and that’s probably going to happen.
MT: Has that not happened yet?
Napoleon: No, I think in the media we haven’t really done it and I think the debates will tell, but I don’t see it getting bloody. I don’t think anybody wants to see it.