Chiefly speaking: City’s new top cop touts fairness, blue-collar work ethic

‘If you treat everybody equally, I think they can say, ‘Well, we didn’t always agree with him, but he treated me just like he treated everybody else.’ I think therein lies what is equitable and fair.’ —Police Chief Ronald Haddad

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Sit down with recently appointed Police Chief Ronald Haddad and two things become immediately apparent: The man has a duty to serve coursing through his blood, as well as an unwavering appreciation of the automobile manufacturers that made Detroit the Motor City.

Raised in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on the east side of Detroit shared with two grandparents, two uncles, his mother, his father and two brothers, Haddad says he had no shortage of role models to aspire to as a child.

Dad was a second major when he returned from World War II. His older uncle did multiple tours of duty as a Marine in the south Pacific. And his younger uncle did a couple of tours on Okinawa as a Navy surgeon technician.

“I’ve had an interest in service since I was a little kid, and a lot of that goes to the men that I had in my life growing up,” said Haddad, who retired as Detroit deputy chief in 2007. “There was certainly no lack of leadership qualities among the men in my house.”

And as highly as he regards public service, he is equally as reverential when speaking about the auto companies, especially the rank-and-file autoworkers.

Haddad hails from a family of UAW members, including a grandfather who worked at the Ford foundry in the city’s south end for more than four decades.

It was those roots, he says, within the auto industry that made Haddad’s nine-month stint as head of security for three Chrysler plants before he accepted the Dearborn position so rewarding.
 “I like to say I found a way to make amends with my ancestors,” he said. “They were all blue-collar guys, and I was kind of the odd one out with my career path.

“But at Chrysler – and I don’t want to be sacrilegious here in Ford country – it gave me a chance to wear one of those blue collars, and I am so grateful for that. A different blue collar, yeah, but it was a blue collar.”

Now four months into the Dearborn job, Haddad’s new blue collar has him overseeing the city built by the Blue Oval, something that’s not lost on him.

“Historically, Dearborn has been known for legendary service, and that, of course, is a product of Ford’s success,” said Haddad.

“This city is so fortunate for that, and while the rest of the state is being devastated by the economy, Dearborn is actually still in a pretty good position because of that.”

Relative good financial position aside, Haddad said he knows he will have to make cuts in his budgets as property values, and subsequently, city tax revenue tumble. This year, Haddad said, he is working on ways to cut $120,000 from the department’s $30 million-plus budget. In coming years he expects deeper cuts.

Haddad said that 760,000 Michiganders have lost their jobs over the last three or four years, and with the Washington, D.C., political wind now shifting from automaker bailouts to automaker bankruptcies, he’s concerned about what may lie ahead.

“That scares me,” Haddad said. “That tells me that the well-being of our people is in dire straits right now.

“So, I know that, economically, to run any police department proportionate to the community you serve is going to be a challenge.”

Another challenge facing Haddad will be cleaning up the image of a police department rocked by scandal in recent years.

In 2005, Officer David Finazzo was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an injury accident. In 2006, in a case that made national news and talk show punch lines, Officer Edward Sanchez resigned after an embarrassing 911 call made because he was disconcertingly high from eating marijuana brownies made with confiscated pot.

Last month, Cpl. Alex Ranirez and Cpl. Gino Soave were arrested for an alleged ticket-fixing scheme and alleged tax evasion, respectively. Haddad, who had Ramirez arrested the same day he received a tip from a resident, said he would deal with any future cases of official misconduct quickly and decisively.

“I think it’s prudent to stop, look and listen,” he said. “I’m in the listening stage right now. But before I was hired, (Mayor John O’Reilly Jr.) made me aware of about five situations that could emerge in the department, and I am monitoring them closely. As things happen we will take the appropriate actions.”

Haddad would not expand on what the situations are, because he didn’t want to compromise any investigations already under way.

In addition to the scandals, Haddad will have to work to change a long-held perception by some that Dearborn police are bigoted. Since the days of Orville Hubbard, when the city tagline “Keep Dearborn Clean” was widely interpreted as “Keep African-Americans Out,” the department has struggled with race relations.

And at least three currently pending racial discrimination lawsuits filed against the department by African-Americans means that the image lingers, if not the practice.

“Perception is reality, so we need to make sure we are reaching out to these groups. I think that’s my responsibility as chief, and I consider myself a big bridge builder,” said Haddad.

Haddad, who is a Lebanese Chirstian, brings with him to the job a long history of bolstering interracial relations. He was given numerous commendations and awards from many largely black community groups during his 34-year career in Detroit — something not exactly commonplace in an city where distrust of police is rampant.

And last Wednesday, at the recommendation of two U.S. attorneys, Haddad went to Lansing and accepted a post on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s Alliance Against Hate Crimes. Haddad attributes his success with the touchy subject of race to an even-handed approach to law enforcement.

“Although fairness is a very subjective thing, if you treat everybody equally, I think they can say, ‘Well, we didn’t always agree with him, but he treated me just like he treated everybody else.’ I think therein lies what is equitable and fair,” Haddad said.

Already, this ideology seems to be reaping some tangible gains. Earlier this month, several Dearborn police attended a prayer service at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit for the church’s 11th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. It was the first time the department was invited.

“They were very well received, and they were the ones getting the bulk of the media inquiries,” said Haddad.

Despite the challenges facing him, Haddad said he is focused on the positives that come with working for one of the most well-financed police departments in the state. Haddad says he is not a boastful person, but when asked what he was most proud of in the department, his eyes light up.

“Our response time is under a minute,” he said, with a subdued smile across his face. “That is practically unheard of in the country, let alone the state.”