Our Next Police Chief
The city is very close to naming someone to officially replace former Police Chief Michael Reese since his retirement this past winter. My understanding is that there are four people in contention for the post, one of them being the acting Interim Chief, Captain John Berg.
I don’t know any of the candidates well, but I have been privileged to meet a couple of them through my involvement with the city and especially with the city’s CERT team. I want to tell you the story of when I met Mr. Berg.
On the evening of August 11, 2014, the city was hit by a massive series of rainstorms and flooding ensued. My own street resembled a river, with a surging, foaming current going past my house onto 15 Mile Road. Our CERT team was activated, and asked to stage at the Sterling Heights Police Department. When I arrived there, the Lieutenant at the desk had me step around behind the main counter to wait for instruction.
Shortly afterward, I encountered a man wearing a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and holding a mop in his hands. Somehow, he did not look like a janitor, and I could tell by the way the Lieutenant spoke to him that the man was not the Lieutenant’s subordinate. That man turned out to be Captain John Berg, and that evening, instead of tasking one of his many subordinates with mopping up the water that had come in under the doorway of the Police station’s lower floor, he changed into work clothes and did it himself.
There is leadership by fiat, and then there is leadership by example. Generally, people with the best work ethic are the ones who can lead by example. In my opinion, they make the best leaders.
Now one brief interaction that I’m sure Mr. Berg doesn’t even remember is hardly enough to justify putting him in the department’s top post, but the confidence of the city administration in naming him interim chief tends to bolster the argument. Like two of the other candidates, Mr. Berg is a professional with years on the force in what is a very highly regarded department that has been relatively free of scandal. My understanding is that his record is absolutely impeccable, and I certainly was able to take the measure of the man in the brief encounter I had with him two years ago.
I have been told that the counter-argument to his candidacy is the fact that he is possibly scheduled to retire within the next few years. It seems to me that this is the normal course of things for the most senior leaders in our city government: as soon as they accumulate all of the organizational knowledge, they age out and take their pension. There are work-arounds to this problem however, and they have been employed multiple times to keep valued senior-level personnel on staff past their retirement dates, even when the DROP program is involved. The current Fire Chief, Christopher Martin, is one such example: he is an excellent leader who rose to the position after he had already taken the DROP option. The city, in its wisdom, found a way to accommodate this situation in a way that benefited both the residents and Mr. Martin. Surely more of the same could happen with Mr. Berg.
I hasten to add that I mean no disrespect to any of the other candidates in my advocacy for Mr. Berg. I have met one of them a couple of times and he has shown me that he takes a resident’s concerns seriously and handles them professionally. I am certain that were he to be named chief, he would make a good one, and in my limited interaction with the department as part of the CERT team, I would be proud to work with him.
Sometimes, though, a person stands out just by doing something as humble as mopping a floor, and when that’s your first impression and you see that they’re also capable of being entrusted to run the entire department, you know you’ve found your guy.
In my opinion, John Berg deserves to have the interim title made permanent: he should be our next Chief of Police.