Benny Napoleon 'left a great legacy,' Dearborn police chief says

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dozens of mourners huddled in the Monday morning chill as they waited in line to honor a longtime law enforcement leader who "left a great legacy."

Guests wait inside the viewing room at Swanson Funeral Home at the visitation for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.

Visitation for Benny Napoleon, who served as Wayne County sheriff and Detroit police chief during his 40-plus years in law enforcement, began at 10 a.m. Monday in the Swanson Funeral Home on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, although dozens of mourners were lined up more than a half-hour before the doors opened.

Napoleon died Dec. 17 at Henry Ford Hospital about three weeks after he was placed on a respirator while fighting COVID-19.

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

Napoleon’s brother, Hilton Napoleon, said he was moved by the show of support at the funeral home.

“I just want to thank all the people who stood in line to honor my brother,” said Hilton Napoleon, who is also a longtime Metro Detroit law enforcement official.

“To stand out in the cold like this to honor him is really something,” he added. Hilton Napoleon spent 71 days in the hospital after contracting the coronavirus in March.

Police officers from agencies across Michigan gathered Monday at the funeral home. In addition, honor guards from Van Buren Township, Dearborn, Auburn Hills, Farmington Hills and the Wayne, Macomb and Oakland county sheriff’s offices were in attendance.

During the open casket viewing, Napoleon was dressed in his brown Wayne County sheriff’s uniform. His blue Detroit Police Department chief’s uniform was displayed in a frame near the casket.

“Benny Napoleon showed us how to do things the right way,” said Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who worked with Napoleon for several years when they were both Detroit cops. “He left a great legacy, and we will never forget it. His favorite saying was ‘You take care of the people, and they’ll take care of you.’ He will be missed.”

Walter Benjamin, a former drug counselor and a Detroit resident, said Napoleon helped him get jobs for people he counseled.

“He was just like me and you," Benjamin said. "He loved Detroit and he had a great attitude.” 

Annie Jones, 80, met Napoleon when he was Detroit’s police chief and she was a community volunteer.

“He was one of a kind, and he was very good to me,” Jones said. “He took me in as part of his family, and I attended his family reunion. He was just a beautiful person.”

Former Wayne County Circuit Judge Wade McCree Jr. said Napoleon was “a genuine, good brother.”

“When he first became sheriff, he came over to the courthouse and gave everyone his cell number,” McCree said. “He was always very approachable for anything anyone needed.”

Detroit resident May Neal said she never met Napoleon, but felt the need to pay her respects because of his work as a Detroit police officer.

“I saw him close down many dope houses in my neighborhood,” said Neal, who lives on the city's east side. “I’m thankful for that.”

Martin Singleton said he and Napoleon began their law enforcement careers together in the Detroit Police Academy.

“We worked together at DPD, and when he went to the sheriff’s office, I went there with him,” Singleton said. “He was a good man.”

Len Solomon of Detroit said he wished there were more leaders like Napoleon.

“He was representative of what the men in this community need to be like,” Solomon said. “He set the example for young people to follow, and that’s not easy to replace; it’s a hard mountain to climb."

Visitation is scheduled from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 W. Seven Mile in Detroit.

A private funeral service is planned.

ghunter@detroitnews.com