New Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington has a long history in law enforcement.
Photo provided by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department
Former Wayne County Deputy Chief of Jail and Courts Raphael Washington is now the new sheriff of Wayne County, Washington confirmed in an exclusive one-on-one interview with The Michigan Chronicle.
Washington takes the place of his predecessor, well-loved Sheriff Benny Napoleon who died December 17 from complications related to COVID-19. Washington is completing Napoleon’s term that began January 1, 2020. Washington plans to run for reelection in 2022.
Staff Writer Sherri Kolade spoke to Washington on January 19 about what his plans are for his new position. His answers are below.
What is your first order of business in your new role?
The first order of business is to make sure we’re doing everything we need to do to stay safe during this pandemic. That is very important to me. I’m not even sitting here at this time if it wasn’t for this pandemic doing what it did to our sheriff and one of our command officers and one of our corporals, as well as two doctors in our facility. It is important that I make sure we are safe and prepared and using all the personal protective equipment that is available to us … properly and consistently. And, it is exciting to know that we’ve started administering the vaccines to some of our officers as we get it … and we’ll start to flatten the curve as well. That is first and foremost on my agenda as I walk into the office today as sheriff. I was sworn in Friday [January 15] and working since then to make sure we are prepared for situations even going on with the Inauguration. There is no intelligence that anything is supposed to spread down to our area but as sheriff, I want to make sure we’re ready to address any issues that may affect our jails and infrastructures. We’re going to be out there and prepared … we don’t want to look like an army state necessarily, but we’ll be out here ready. Just because you may not see all of the law enforcement around our infrastructure we’re out there and people need to be mindful of that. Anything we need to address we will address it in the most responsible way.
What are your public safety priorities in Wayne County?
Overall, making sure things we’re mandated to do– securing our parks courts and jails from a public safety aspect — that we’re staffed properly and that we’re able to engage the community in the most excellent way we know how. That is what we have as it relates to being in the community for our mandated duties.
What are your budget priorities for the sheriff’s office?
We’re very interested in making sure we do our best to fill the 200 vacant positions we have in the Sheriff’s Office. We remind the public we’re open for business. We’re hiring and we need people to help staff those shortages. That is one of the budget concerns that I want to address coming in and I want to get those filled and that is a priority of mine. … I want people to know we are here and would like them to join the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office — these are jail-based positions.
The jail is the biggest thing we do in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. … Everyone has their own police department, which we do support when needed. We do jails, courts and parks, and we need people so we’re not ordering our officers to work more than 16 hours a day. … They will be pleased with coming in and applying to any of our facilities. We will get them started and welcome them as long as they are [qualified to apply].
What do you view as the strengths of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and what areas need improvement and how do you plan to address the areas that need improvement?
Strengths — I believe in our organizations. We are here for the community, here for the public. We make sure those in our custody are treated the right way with dignity and respect and make sure our officers are doing that — they do a great job of that. [We are] here to engage the community to make sure the sheriff’s office can respond to them and their needs and concerns in the community; I think we do that well. Weaknesses would be we’re in a pandemic situation. It is hard to engage the public the way we want to as a sheriff. I would like to be close and personal to people and we have to find the opportunity to do that through Zoom and make sure we’re engaging them … as much as we can with the community.
What experience do you have that makes you qualified to manage this office?
I have been a 38-year law enforcement executive. I have been a supervisor in law enforcement since 1999. I followed on a very consistent basis our late great Sheriff Benny Napoleon who was a mentor of mine, and I worked very closely with him for those 38 years. I gleaned a lot from him …as he commanded police departments and so I’m prepared through my training, through my experience, through the vast variety of operations that I’ve had to command. I’ve done everything at the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office that can be done. … I know I’m in a place where I’m capable, I’m ready. I have the energy to lead this organization as the Wayne County Sheriff.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of in the past five years?
I’m proud of the fact that [I’ve had] boots on the ground with the troops and I built a rapport as such they believe in my managerial style. They believe I’m capable of leading this organization. …I could talk about paper accomplishments … but if you don’t have as a leader someone following you, you are just a man on a walk. I demonstrated to those who had the opportunity to work under me and with me that I am the person to lead this organization. That is what they say and I know to believe that is right and a huge accomplishment.
How do you intend to navigate the intersection between mental health and crime?
Fortunately enough, I sit on a mental health [task force] with Judge [Shannon] Holmes of 36th District Court. [I am] very engaged with the mental health community that we are tasked with serving in our jails. I’m just looking forward to continuing to observe and learn and seek the best treatment — outpatient treatment, residential treatment — for those having mental health issues. That we treat them and not necessarily incarcerate them. … I’m looking at that mental health piece closely along with my team constantly dealing with and coming up with best practices and talking to stakeholders … so we can release them from our custody and [into] society.
Describe your personal and professional morals.
Personal morals — [I am a] very religious person. I try to live my life based on those principles I grew up with all of my life, that is how I do that. And professionally I simply continue to surround myself with a great team; I don’t operate on an island. I believe we bring people together. … Being in the multitude of counselors there is safety. If we all come together and talk about how we best serve people in the public and the job we’re tasked to do … we are serving the community in the most excellent way we can.
What are your plans for running for election?
I was fortunate enough to take this job. [You] have to be chosen for this job. I’m going to have to now be elected to this position. Next year in 2022 August, there is an election I’m going to have to win to retain this seat. We’re going to be working very hard to make sure this happens. I’m going to be looking for the support of the people of Wayne County; I’m going to prove myself in the best way I can. … I need people to understand I’m in this position for the long haul, Hopefully the citizens will know who I am and what I bring and they’ll be very supportive of me continuing in this position.