Cop out

Dec 14, 2005 at 12:00 am

If you want to keep up on the latest insider info regarding Detroit’s always turbulent political scene, John Bennett’s Detroit Uncovered is a must read.

A seven-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department, Bennett launched his site in 2002 under the name That’s when Jerry Oliver, who did little to endear himself to much of the department’s rank and file, was still chief of police.

Along the way, the site blossomed into a clearinghouse for all manner of things regarding the city of Detroit and its politics, from educated speculation to solid reporting to gossip. Over time, especially after Oliver was indeed fired, more and more attention focused on the administration of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

But this exercise in free speech has come at a price. For the past two years Bennett has been suspended without pay, and his site is the reason.

At first, he says, department brass didn’t make a fuss about his postings. But things changed, Bennett says, after he started posting about the now-infamous party Kilpatrick supposedly held at the Manoogian Mansion. (The state’s attorney general, after investigating, says the party never happened.) One night while Bennett was working the late shift, Jerry O. himself ordered him to take the site down.

Bennett refused and was suspended without pay. That was more than two years ago. Since then, he’s gotten by with a lot of help from friends and family while he fights the suspension.

“I live week to week, but I manage,” Bennett says.

He’s a 42-year-old native Detroiter who looks like a cop but talks like a professor, or maybe a political analyst. That makes sense: While suspended from the force, he’s earned a master’s degree in public administration from Eastern Michigan University to go with his degree in public affairs from Wayne State University.

Unfortunately for the Kilpatrick administration, the suspension has given Bennett more time to work on the site. Most of his tips come from inside City Hall and the Police Department. Always conscious that he’s one mistake away from a major lawsuit, Bennett just doesn’t pass along the tidbits that come his way.

“When I get information, I try to check with a couple of sources,” Bennett says. “I have a track record with most of my sources. I know if they’re legit.”

But he can’t afford to become complacent. A couple of times, he says, people have tried to feed him bad information in order to lure him into a mistake.

So far, he hasn’t messed up.

It’s only fair to ask Bennett why he keeps doing what he’s doing. The blog has cost him his livelihood and mostly likely his chances of future employment as a cop — it seems unrealistic that any police department is going to hire a guy with a well-documented history of airing the department’s dirty laundry on the Internet — as well as racking up significant legal bills. (He’s currently involved with both a union grievance process and a civil suit against the city.) He’s come close to giving up his blog and freely admits there’s a chance he wouldn’t have chosen this path had he known what would happen. But he’s just stubborn enough to keep going.

“I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong,” he says. “At the moment I was suspended, it became an issue of freedom of speech.”

As Bennett sees it, folks in power tend to get corrupt. And when they do, someone needs to call them out. And that’s where Bennett and his blog come in.

“I’ve always had something to say, but now people are paying attention.” —Nancy Kaffer