A Conversation with Benton Harbor Police Chief Mingo: Part 2

Never as affluent as its sister city, St. Joe, Benton Harbor was once as shiny -- a good place to raise a family and send your kids to school.

But white and black flight changed the face of Benton Harbor, and the bridge dividing the two cities represents more race and income than distance.

He's a tough cop who has spent his six years on the force, coming down hard on residents and even his commissioners.

And he says some childhood television helped him find his style.

“I'm the type of guy like the Adam 12 and the Andy Griffith show. Just being friendly and just talking to people, no matter who it is,” says Police Chief Al Mingo.

Mingo grew up watching Andy Griffith walk the streets of Mayberry and while the streets of Benton Harbor look a lot different than Mayberry, like Andy, he hits the pavement to stay connected.

He says he isn't an office cop and also spends a lot of time dropping in on business owners.

But make no mistake. He is also one tough cop who spent 25 years as a Michigan State Trooper before coming to Benton Harbor, just as he was getting ready to retire.

“It fell on me, Benton Harbor kind of fell on me or I fell into the situation,” Mingo explains.

He came on temporarily to help then chief, Sam Harris.

That was in 2003 -- when riots broke out after the death of a motorcyclist, being chased by another police department, and drew national attention and brought Jesse Jackson to town.

It sealed Mingo's fate.

When Harris resigned in 2005 Mingo became chief.

“He asked me would I stay on and some of the officers, the guys, came and asked would I stay on, so that it would be a smooth transition,” says Mingo.

A smooth transition, but the hardest job he's ever had.

“The amount of people that's in such a small area, the amount of calls that you get the fights that you get,” all contribute to the toughness Mingo says.

“There's very little parenting going on, you have children raising children. I honestly believe when the family structure deteriorates everything else is going to follow,” he adds.

He encourages kids to stay in school and parents to be parents.

And he's cleaning up the city, issuing citations to people who don't take care of their homes.

Mingo came from humble beginnings in nearby Covert.

I remember times when we went to bed, and this is no exaggeration, with mustard and hard break sandwiches, I remember that,” Remembers an emotional Mingo.

The family of seven didn't have much, but they did have their pride, “We couldn't lay around all day long. We had to get down on our hands and knees and we had to clean in the corners and clean the carpeting.”

“We don't just want people sitting around thinking somebody's going to come and hand them something. I hate that attitude, I despise it,” Mingo explains.

“No matter how poor people are, or a city, they can be neat, they can be clean and they can have pride.”

Chief Mingo even applies this rule to his officers, issuing citations to them.

He says Benton Harbor has many fine police officers and he's made weeding out the bad cops a top priority.

Putting one of his own, narcotics officer Andrew Collins, behind bars for planning to sell drugs he confiscated.

“I deal with it very forcefully as I did with the Collins case and I’m proud of the fact that we're the ones who contacted the state police and the FBI,” he explains.

Then just last week the head of the city's narcotics unit was arrested as part of the same investigation, charged with corruption.

Cases that have something to do with his decision to retire.

“This thing brought about a whole new degree of distrust and I just don't think I have the energy to do that and start all over again,” Mingo says.

He hopes to leave that to a younger man with the same principles.

And he has no regrets.

“I can look back over my career, over my life and say, if I had to do everything what would I change? And I can't see even one thing that I would change. Believe it or not, I wouldn't even change Benton Harbor,” says the proud chief.

Chief Mingo doesn't know who will replace him, but he has recommended a couple officers he says would be a good fit.

He says the train of change is coming to Benton Harbor and tomorrow night he talks about the projects bringing that change.

He says the residents who don't want to get on board, will get rolled over.

If you'd like to see the rest of Maureen’s three-part series on “A Conversation with Benton Harbor Police Chief Mingo,” just click on the related links below.

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