Riding with Benny: A look at Napoleon’s neighborhood plan

Benny Napoleon peered out of the window of a silver SUV and shook his head.

“This should never happen,” the Wayne County sheriff told me, pointing to a west-side street made impassable by discarded tires, mattresses, couches and black garbage bags. “People should not have to live like this.”

Napoleon, who is running for mayor of Detroit, wanted to show me how his plan, One Square Mile, would reduce crime and improve long-neglected neighborhoods.

The idea is to assign a police officer to each of Detroit’s 140 square miles. That officer would get to know the residents, business owners, faith-based leaders, school principals and troublemakers. The officer also would notify city hall of malfunctioning street lights, gaping potholes, missing manhole covers, broken fire hydrants and clogged storm water drains.

During our one-hour drive through one square mile on the west side (boundaries pictured to right), we saw scrappers, suspected drug dealers, a loose pit bull, gang-related graffiti, wide-open abandoned homes, dilapidated businesses and yards covered in trash.

“Look at this,” Napoleon said, visibly irritated. “It’s outrageous.”

The SUV stopped in front of an abandoned bungalow overcome by brush. The windows were broken, and the front yard was covered by dead trees and garbage bags on an otherwise tidy block.

Napoleon got out of the SUV and talked to a few neighbors, who said the city has ignored their complaints.

“All they need is a Dumpster,” Napoleon said a few minutes later. “People want to take control of their neighborhood; they just need the resources.”

As we turned the corner onto Prevost, Napoleon pointed out a suspected drug house and lookout car. A few houses away, a truck was filled with what looked like stolen scrap metal.

Benny Drive_5276Under Napoleon’s plan, he said, “an officer would knock on the door and tell them, ‘I’m here, I’m going to be here everyday. You have to be a good neighbor. If you don’t, there are going to be consequences.'”

Napoleon said city hall shares the blame for Detroit’s dramatic population decline because irresponsible homeowners and landlords have been permitted to neglect their properties.

“We’ve allowed people to disrespect our neighborhoods,” Napoleon said. “If you don’t cut your grass or clean up your property, you need to get an ordinance violation.”

During the drive, Napoleon was sincere and passionate. He didn’t discuss his opponent, Mike Duggan, or talk about politics. He was openly frustrated with the condition of the neighborhoods and the failure of city services.

Benny block_5273“Why should people have to live like this?” he asked.

Napoleon said the city has all but abandoned its neighborhoods, doing little to curtail the abandonment.

“People need to feel like they can make a difference,” he said. “My plan can get that done.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • DIRK DIGGLER

    Mike Duggan is the only right candidate here who has a proven turnaround record and will FOR SURE make positive changes to the city of Detroit.

  • StretchRun

    Benny is all over the map. His latest is a three billion plan to go to the neighborhoods. That is billion with a ‘b’. He says he is going to get state and federal money, but mostly rely on the private sector. The private sector is not going to partner with someone who himself partners with the despicable Krystal Crittendon, racist Joann Watson’s legal thug.

    Then to prove he has private sector connections, Benny throws out the name of his friend Manny Maroun, another despicable human being. The more this guy opens his mouth, the scarier it sounds. If he is elected, that giant ‘ whoosh ‘ sound will be the investors leaving and writing off their losses.

    • bebow

      The state would retain absolute control over the city and tuck Benny into an isolated corner, with the threat of withholding his pay if he isn’t quiet. See Bing? See City Council?

      • StretchRun

        Benny might roll over for that. He doesn’t strike me as particularly ambitious. I don’t think Duggan would allow the Republicans to own him. He will want to put his own stamp on the turnaround.

  • Greg Thrasher

    Suspected drug dealers reads like so much like a white person would say who has Negrophobia in their veins.. WTF

  • Headly Westerfield

    You’re 1 mile from my old neighbourhood at Gilchrist & 8 Mile. You might want to drive that street north from Curtis, past 7 Mile, to 8 Mile. You’ll note that only the last half mile of Gilchrist, from Pembroke to 8 Mile, is relatively unscathed by the surrounding blight, and the street gets better the closer to 8 Mile you get.

    Yet, travel to any other street in that same half mile and you’ll see far more blight than on Gilchrist. There’s something about that 1/2 mile on Gilchrist that’s VERY different than the surrounding streets. I don’t know why, but it’s something I have followed in the 40 years since I left Gilchrist by returning periodically. While I’ve notice the deterioration of the entire neighbourhood, my block on Gilchrist still looks great.

  • bebow

    Benny asks a good question but fails to provide an adequate solution. Benny-types hope to harvest votes from the same folks whose familiars are behind the violence and destruction, so the necessary corrective action will never take place. There will only be talk. One lonesome officer per square mile to handle this madness? A far more effective strategy for addressing the neighborhood situation is available, and it’s simple. Did Benny take action upon or report any of the crime you observed while on the neighborhood tour? Why not?

    • StretchRun

      Hoping to read your neighborhood plan soon. Is it still coming?

      • bebow

        The neighborhood crime purging plan is a gift. It’s not mine. Whether it comes or not depends upon the willingness of the elected and the business community to take care of business that is handled routinely everywhere else on the planet, except perhaps in Calcutta. Here you go: The state must force DTE to effectively disable all illegal electric and gas connections, starting in the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, regardless of occupancy status. This involves cutting down the wires and removing the meters. Abandoned properties should receive the same treatment, with “abandoned” defined very loosely, to prevent squatters from settling in them. DWSD must also be forced to effectively disable all illegal water connections at the same places, so the ubiquitous DWSD provided keys cannot be used to restore service. Most criminals will not stay where there is no possibility of stealing lights, gas, and water, and no one can claim DTE and DWSD shouldn’t be taking corrective action on the huge utility theft issue. With these simple actions, the crime problem would be reduced significantly without a single move from the DPD, and as an added bonus, our utility bills should drop like a rock without the cost of rampant theft included.

        • StretchRun

          Interesting. I’m glad I asked. I’d like to see a payback analysis of the costs of rewiring, etc.

          • bebow

            In the most crime-ridden areas, there would rarely be a need to rewire anything. It’s that far gone.