Benton Harbor Police Chief Al Mingo has spent 25 years as a state cop and had every intention of retiring, but then a friend asked him to help out in Benton Harbor police and six years later he is finally retiring.
He says it's the toughest job he's ever loved, and he believes when he turns in his badge in September it will be to a city making a comeback.
St. Joseph and Benton Harbor-- a tale of two cities.
St. Joe a thriving, mostly white beach town. Across a short bridge, Benton Harbor, also on the lakefront, but poor and mostly black.
The disparity between the two wasn't always there.
Benton Harbor once had the hustle, bustle and diversity of any Midwest town.
Then industry left, jobs were lost and middle class white and black class flight began.
Benton Harbor Police Chief Al Mingo has worked hard to change the city's image. A hands-on police chief, he'll answer his own phone and spends a good part of his day pounding the pavement, talking with residents and checking in on business owners.
Crime rates are down; just last week two major drug dealers were taken off the streets.
“I think it's going to be the Benton Harbor of old,” says Police Chief Mingo, who says he envisions people coming back into Benton Harbor.
“They're already coming back,” Mingo says. “You can go down to the art district right now on a weekend and 12 o'clock in the morning you see people that are patronizing Paulie's and the people patronizing the Livery down there. 95, 98 percent are white and they're not from Benton Harbor.
From humble beginnings himself, Chief Mingo says his parents expected hard work and so does he. And he says any city would be envious in these tough times for the things going on in Benton Harbor.
“Look at the construction you see going on,” Mingo says. “There's homes going up, there's subdivisions going up, Harbor Shores is major -- helping Benton Harbor return to the glory days.”
“You're going to have people coming in, you're going to see the tax base, homes going up around Harbor Shores. I think you'll see hotels coming in...to see things that's going on in Jean Clock Park, which is part of Harbor Shores.”
And he gets some pleasure being able to say to naysayers, "I told you so."
“They were so adamant that this would be detrimental for the community,” says Mingo. “Anybody in their right mind could see this is a major plus.”
A plus that will bring professionals back to Benton Harbor.
“I think you're going to see the commission start to change and frankly speaking, I think it needs to change,” Mingo says.
“You're going to have more professional people running for our commission and when I say more professional, I mean people that understand budgets, that understand leadership.”
Chief Mingo says he is bothered that St. Joe and Benton Harbor are viewed so differently, but the difference should be a motivating factor.
”All I know is what we can accomplish, and what we need to do,” he says. “Let's not be angry with them, let's not call them names. Let's do for ourselves.”
And he has a tough message for residents.
“People are not going to come and offer you jobs just because you are black and from Benton Harbor,” Mingo says.
“Make yourself available and then you can get your piece of the pie out of this matter. But you aren't going to get it by laying in bed until one o'clock in the afternoon, and I hope you put this on the air, you're not going to get it hanging out on your porch. You're going to actively be out there.”
Like he's been.
Mingo says he feels great about the last six years, and has a positive forecast for Benton Harbor’s future.
[In ten years from now...] “I see Harbor Shores really coming into its own, I see beautiful homes around that golf course, I see people moving into the city,” says Mingo.
“I see people sitting around Main Street, much like you see in St. Joe, enjoying themselves. I see various events out at Jean Clock Park, just unbelievable events.”
Chief Mingo started a classic car show last year that brought tons of people to town.
The Harbor Auto Fest is happening again this year on July 31st and August 1st. Click on the link below for more information.
As for the chief, he and his wife will spend their winters in Florida and he hopes his replacement is a cop who is interested in the people, not power.
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.