Detroit to name 'major DPD facility' in honor of late Benny Napoleon

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The late Benny Napoleon's name will carry on at the Detroit Police Department's major crimes and training facility, the city of Detroit announced Wednesday.

The building at 1200 Oakman Boulevard will be named the Benny N. Napoleon Intelligence and Training Center. Right now, there's a building on-site that hosts the organized crime and gang intelligence unit.

A second building will be renovated and turned into a "training facility for officers to develop and sharpen their skills," and store police department documents. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council President Brenda Jones and Police Chief James Craig shared the details at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. 

"Benny was real police. He knew what was going on in the streets. He knew how to solve crimes," Duggan said. "We just wanted the family to know how deeply Benny touched the lives of every Detroiter. Everybody in the city felt they knew him. We just wanted a way to acknowledge that."

The city's decision to honor Napoleon, a 26-year veteran of the force and Detroit's police chief from 1998 to 2001, comes just two weeks after Wayne County started preliminary discussions to honor the man who later became Wayne County sheriff.

Last week:Wayne County considers honoring 'giant' Napoleon at new justice center

At the county level, the discussion is whether Napoleon's name should be included on a piece of the new criminal justice complex, set for completion in December 2022.

Tiffani Jackson, Napoleon's daughter, welcomed Wednesday's honor from the city.

"They beat them to the punch," Jackson said of the city moving quicker than the county. 

"I'm just super proud of everything that my dad accomplished in his lifetime and I think his legacy just continues to speak to the person who he was," Jackson said. "He spent 26 years with the Detroit Police Department, protecting the citizens of the city. It's reassuring that he was the man that I thought he was all these years."

Detroit City Council unanimously passed the naming resolution Wednesday. 

Jones, who is not running for re-election this year, shepherded the resolution through. She called the new building "The Benny."

Napoleon "left a legacy of service and stewardship to all Detroiters," Jones said. 

"And, I have to say: Cass Tech alumni," Jones said. "I'm sorry if you didn't go to Cass Tech."

"I'm sorry too," Craig said.

Napoleon, Jones and Craig all attended Cass Tech, a city magnet school on Detroit's west side.

Rod Marshall holds a photo of Sheriff Benny Napoleon inside the viewing room at Swanson Funeral Home Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.

An in-person dedication is expected to take place this summer, depending on COVID-19 infection rates, Duggan said. 

The mayor noted that two decades ago when he was a young Wayne County prosecutor and Napoleon was a young Detroit police chief, the two talked, ate lunch together often and worked in partnership to reduce violence. 

In 2013, when the two were rivals in the Detroit mayoral election, they stayed in regular contact, he added. 

"We had a special relationship," Duggan said. "Our lives remained intertwined in a lot of different ways."

Craig, the police chief, and Napoleon, the sheriff, also worked closely together. Detroit police make about 70% of the arrests that lead to Wayne County Jail. Napoleon swore Craig in as a police officer in Wayne County.

"I watched Benny, I watched his rise," Craig said. "He was a great partner and he's truly missed. He loved public service. He loved his community." 

Craig thought the gang intelligence unit was the best choice to carry Napoleon's name because that was some of his most meaningful experience in policing.

Jackson noted how Craig shared that he appreciated Napoleon's friendship, advice and stories over the years. She appreciated the moment.

"It was good to have that camaraderie together with a law enforcement friend," Jackson said. 

Jackson said her father was big on training and education and the building ties together his public safety career. 

"It's a huge gesture ... to name this building after him. It's something that will last until way after I'm gone," she said. "His legacy will continue to speak for who he was as a person."

Napoleon was appointed sheriff in June 2009 to replace the departing Warren Evans, who left to take the job as Detroit Police chief under then-Mayor Dave Bing. Evans is now Wayne County executive.

More:Wayne Co. Sheriff Napoleon dies after contracting COVID-19

Evans, in a Wednesday statement, called Napoleon his friend and the training center a "lasting reminder of his commitment to the city of Detroit" and to the officers he served.

"Detroit is where Benny began his law enforcement career," Evans said. "He grew up here and he never forgot that."

Napoleon held the sheriff's post until his death in December, at 65, after a long hospitalization with COVID-19. 

Early indications from the Wayne County Commission are favorable on the idea of putting his name on a building, and the early favorite is the county's administration building.

But those discussions, county officials say, are preliminary.