DETROIT – Wayne County sheriff Benny Napoleon had a unique place in Wayne County politics.
All one had to hear was the name Benny and they immediately knew who someone was talking about. Napoleon served in one of the most difficult jobs anywhere as jailer, and yet his legacy goes far beyond that.
He was 65 years old.
He spent his entire life serving Detroit. He started as a patrol officer for the Detroit Police Department when he was 18. Former Detroit Police chief Ike McKinnon said he showed early promise.
“He was smart, and he listened to me and other people and he wanted to make a difference,” McKinnon recalled. “He was the son of a minister and you just didn’t see people listen as much as he did.”
Napoleon put himself through night school and received an undergrad degree from University of Detroit Mercy and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law, now known as the Michigan State University College of Law.
Over time, he worked his way up to Detroit Police Chief from 1998 to 2001 under former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer. He spent nearly half his life with the DPD.
In 2004, he became the Assistant Wayne County Executive before being appointed to Wayne County sheriff in 2009.
He had larger political aspirations and ran for mayor of Detroit in 2013 when Dave Bing decided to not seek re-election. His opponent was Mike Duggan, who won the race 55% to 45%.
“I am shocked and saddened at the loss of one of our city’s greatest public servants and native sons, Benny Napoleon,” Duggan said in a statement Thursday night. “I cannot think of a leader in this town who has been more loved and admired than Benny.”
“We’re poorer because we’ve lost a great person, a great public servant,” McKinnon said. “A great family person. That was number one for Ben, his family.”
Moves to make sure Napoleon’s name lives on are underway.