With Godbee gone, Detroit’s leadership crisis deepens.
In every community law enforcement has a crucial and inescapable role in not only protecting the community, but also setting the exemplary standard in leadership. Those who claim to enforce the law cannot be seen as giving the law a different meaning when it applies to them.
We cannot have two sets of laws — one for the powerful and those in law enforcement and the other for those they have been sworn to protect at all costs.
That is why the tragedy of Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee who retired this week in the wake of an explosive sexual scandal with a police subordinate Angelica Robinson, is not only hurtful for those struggling residents looking for protection, but further deepens this city’s leadership crisis.
Godbee’s saga now becomes the latest personification by critics of why so many things have gone wrong in Detroit. Not that sexual scandals and abuse are foreign in the corridors of power where power, in the words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, is an “aphrodisiac” that comes to the fore when opportunities present themselves for the powerful.
If the allegations by Godbee’s married mistress are true, then both of them have abused their police powers. Both of them have betrayed the public’s trust.
I’m not a moralist, and I’m not interested in further exploring the titillating sexual allegations against Godbee and Robinson.
What concerns me most as is the case with those interested in seeing Detroit move beyond this sort of fractured leadership, and arrest the escalating crime menace, is that these two adults were in positions of influence.
They presided over the affairs of everyday people ensuring that they abide by the law. Yet they themselves allegedly engaged in activities that compromised their ability to execute their duties sincerely and efficiently.
The leader of the police department is the face of law enforcement in the city and he embodies the ideas and aspirations of not only the department, but also the community in which he’s sworn to serve. When the leadership compromises itself, the department in effect has been compromised as well.
That is what happened in the case of Godbee, especially given that this is not the first time sexual allegations have risen concerning Godbee, as was the case with former police chief Warren Evans.
Mayor Dave Bing did the right thing by moving speedily to announce Godbee’s suspension, which weighed heavily into the former police chief’s decision to retire.
But now what?
Interim chief Chester Logan, a veteran of the department, takes over.
Will it stop the nonsense we just witnessed?
Will it stop the leadership deficit of the department and restore public confidence in the men and women in blue?
How much of a free reign will Logan have to make some real changes or stem the tide of rapid violence we are seeing in the city daily?
How does this latest crisis in the police department affect the Justice Department’s Consent Decree given that the police department is still not in full compliance of the decree which came as a result of civil rights lawsuit against the police department?
Put Godbee’s moral dilemma aside given that he is an ordained minister as well, and look at the person outside of the sexual scandal. You’ll see a police chief who tried to do his best.
The few times I interacted with Godbee at public functions and observing him from a distance, I found him to be perhaps the most relatable police chief in recent history.
He went into the community and spoke with residents. He understood the language of the streets and sometimes that played to his own detriment. Perhaps he was too relatable, emphasizing a wholistic approach to the crime problems in a city (and sometimes not seen as tough enough) where relations between police and residents have not been good.
If you met Godbee, it was clear he was not an ivory tower law enforcement officer because at the center of his crime watch was getting the community on board.
For years, victims of police brutality and other abuse of police powers and critics have insisted on better and more effective community policing if the Detroit Police Department was going to succeed.
Godbee tried to put meaning in the words “community policing” because the police department cannot solve crimes if the community is not on board.
I watched him engage the ex-offender community, speaking at the 10-year coming out celebration for former gang member Yusef Shakur, whose remarkable life transformation since leaving the prison walls shows why young men who had misdirection in the earlier part of their lives can once again become productive members of society.
It was the first time I saw a police chief speak glowingly of the transformation of an ex-offender and encourage others to turn their lives around and become active participants in moving themselves and their community forward. The audience, comprised of those once locked in prison cells and their parents, welcomed his remarks.
He challenged the young men to step up and own their community by doing good, rather than engaging in nefarious activities.
In the words of Tupac Shakur, he urged them to become “the rose that grew from concrete,” because too many young Black men face the specter of encountering the criminal justice system in the early parts of their lives.
And if a police chief is out there talking to those young men, telling them that they have a future in this community, that in fact they can be whoever they want to be, we will be far ahead in this community.
When a police chief tells our young men that their future is bigger and greater than robbing someone at a gas station or engaging in other criminal behavior, that’s mentoring.
When such admonition comes from the chief law enforcement officer in the city, it carries more weight than anyone’s advice.
Godbee did set a standard on community policing, but the scale of the sexual allegations put a permanent scar on his legacy and memory as police chief. What he accused of makes him a failed leader.
When Mayor Bing appointed Godbee to the position of police chief, he wasn’t appointing Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama of Detroit. Yet that did not excuse the chief from maintaining the highest professional standard that is expected of those who enforce and interpret the law.
The unfortunate saga of Godbee is a textbook case of why Detroit’s next mayor will have a lot of work to do, especially with the police department, regardless of who the chief is.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.