Chief

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LO­CAL NEWS -

Bereda’s step­fa­ther was a long­time Up­per Me­rion Po­lice Depart­ment sergeant and his dad Nick re­tired from the Tredyf­frin Town­ship Po­lice Depart­ment af­ter 27 years, coin­ci­den­tally the same span of time Bereda spent there, work­ing his way through the ranks to re­tire as a De­tec­tive Sergeant — their ca­reers over­lapped by five years.

His un­cle, the late Jack Brennan — also from Bridge­port — was the found­ing Fire Chief of the King of Prus­sia Fire Com­pany and a UMPD lieu­tenant who re­tired af­ter 36 years on the force. And a host of un­cles, cousins and other rel­a­tives have served in Con­shohocken, Whit­pain, Spring City, and the Mont­gomery County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment.

Bereda grew up largely in Hughes Park and grad­u­ated from Up­per Me­rion Area High School in 1985 be­fore em­bark­ing on a re­mark­able ca­reer that has lit­er­ally taken him around the world and back home again — full cir­cle and “Bridge­port Strong,” to quote his first ini­tia­tive as chief.

“I have a very strong and pas­sion­ate con­nec­tion to this town,” Bereda said re­cently while set­tling into his new digs at Bor­ough Hall.

“Bridge­port has al­ways been strong, work­ing class, not race-cen­tric, gritty, if you could call it that...There’s a cer­tain bond that comes from that and it’s al­ways been that way.”

Bereda briefly at­tended West Ch­ester Univer­sity where he joined the ROTC, but soon grav­i­tated to­ward the Marines where he would spend the next six years, begin­ning as a re­cruiter be­fore be­com­ing one of just 5 mil­i­tary po­lice­men out of 200 ap­pli­cants se­lected as a pres­i­den­tial sup­port spe­cial­ist, an elite post pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries both do­mes­ti­cally and abroad, in­clud­ing in war zones.

“So as a young guy, I couldn’t get it wrong. I had to get it right,” Bereda re­called of his days in D.C. “It’s def­i­nitely a shap­ing event in your life when you have to strive for ex­cel­lence ev­ery day and if you’re not you’re in the wrong place.

“I look back very fondly. I trav­eled the world...If the pres­i­dent went some­where for three hours I’d be there for three or four days. It was a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said.

Bereda also forged last­ing friend­ships while in the Marines, and some of his farflung bud­dies from the pres­i­den­tial de­tail trav­eled across the coun­try to Bridge­port for his swear­ing-in.

“They’re the ties that bind,” Bereda said. “That’s a fam­ily that’s built there, and built on ex­cel­lence, so it was a great pe­riod of time.” New Bridge­port Po­lice Chief Todd Bereda and Mayor Mark Bar­bee share a hug and a laugh at a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing.

In 1992, Bereda re­turned home even though he could have pur­sued a mil­i­tary ca­reer as a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer.

He wanted to have a fam­ily and not be de­ployed up to six months a year, so he joined the Tredyf­frin Po­lice Depart­ment, where he be­came the town­ship’s first bike patrol of­fi­cer, an ex­plorer ad­vi­sor for the boy scouts, and served in the Ch­ester County drug task force.

His affin­ity for in­ves­tiga­tive work led him to un­der­cover nar­cotics train­ing and he be­came one of the first mem­bers of the Ch­ester County Swat Team, sup­port­ing high-risk drug and search war­rant op­er­a­tions.

In 1997, he was named “Of­fi­cer of the year.” And a year later, he played an in­te­gral part in a high-pro­file six-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion that brought down two no­to­ri­ously pro­lific and brazen crim­i­nals re­spon­si­ble for dozens of armed rob­beries, in­clud­ing sev­eral banks.

Through­out his 20 years as a de­tec­tive, Bereda con­tin­u­ally sought out pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­cently grad­u­ated from the New Jersey Chiefs of Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion’s lead­er­ship acad­emy at West Point.

Around that time, Bereda — who cur­rently lives in East Vin­cent Town­ship with his wife Melissa, also an Up­per Me­rion grad, and his daugh­ter Elise, 13 — heard about the pos­si­ble open­ing for the top job in Bridge­port fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of for­mer Chief Robert Rux­ton. He knew there were sev­eral ap­pli­cants fur­ther along in the process but asked bor­ough of­fi­cials to keep in mind if a can­di­date dropped out.

Un­aware that newly hired po­lice Chief Mark Shan­non had left the depart­ment fol­low­ing a rift with Mayor Mark Bar­bee over tar­geted polic­ing, Bereda, pon­der­ing his next chap­ter, and crav­ing a taste of home, stopped into Fran­zone’s Pizza. That’s when he learned from owner Sammy Fran­zone that the po­si­tion was open again.

“And I thought, how can I ex­pand my hori­zons. I have a deep con­nec­tion (to Bridge­port) through fam­ily and friends. So I called over to the bor­ough and sub­mit­ted a re­sume. How about that, the Bridge­port chief finds out about the job over a pizza,” he said laugh­ingly.

Bereda said there have been “un­der­tones of neg­a­tiv­ity” as­so­ci­ated with Bridge­port, “mostly ex­ter­nally and mostly un­war­ranted,” and that is some­thing he’d like to change.

“Is that some­thing to stand in the way of pro­mot­ing the best things in Bridge­port, for me it wasn’t. I was ex­cited about the chal­lenge to come here.”

“I came from a large 43 man po­lice depart­ment to an agency with nine full time and four part-time of­fi­cers and I’m amazed how they man­age that.

“There’s only a cou­ple of of­fi­cers on at a time. I don’t think peo­ple know the ex­tent to which of­fi­cers are run­ning from call to call. I know be­cause I’ve done it with them. And I’ve watched them, and I’m im­pressed. They make things work in spite of it and that’s Bridge­port strong.”

Bereda says his Bridge­port Strong ini­tia­tive is about bring­ing peo­ple to­gether through ser­vice­based lead­er­ship, a con­cept de­rived from his Chris­tian faith.

He kicked off the cam­paign by pur­chas­ing Bridge­port Strong T-shirts, which he handed out to of­fi­cials and at­ten­dees at his swear­ing-in.

“Ev­ery per­son from the Mayor on down re­ceived that shirt from me. When many peo­ple take a po­si­tion, they take,” Bereda said. “They re­ceive a pay­check, they re­ceive a car, they re­ceive their com­mis­sion, so I want to start with giv­ing back.”

“It’s unity, to try to have us all take a step back and re­al­ize there’s more ties that bind than there are that sep­a­rate and di­vide. And if you al­ways have a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, and I do, that in­er­tia will pull us to­ward the pos­i­tive goals.”

To that end, Bereda says he is com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment with the depart­ment to foster the “high­est level of morale and sat­is­fac­tion of per­for­mance” as he pos­si­bly can to re­tain qual­ity of­fi­cers.

He has started to broaden the po­lice depart­ment’s outreach on so­cial me­dia, al­ready post­ing pho­tos with lo­cal busi­ness owners and high­light­ing pos­i­tive sto­ries, like that of a woman who re­cently came to the po­lice sta­tion to re­turn a di­a­mond en­gage­ment ring lost by its owner at the post of­fice. Need­less to say, she’s get­ting a Bridge­port Strong T-shirt.

Bereda also plans to uti­lize the depart­ment’s Face­book page to post com­mu­nity and crime alerts and has been em­bark­ing on “com­mu­nity walk and talks,” meet­ing and greet­ing Bridge­port res­i­dents, es­pe­cially at Wawa on Mon­day morn­ings “be­cause that’s when peo­ple are at their grump­i­est and you might get ex­actly what they think.”

A pos­si­ble chap­laincy pro­gram is also in the works.

In re­sponse to the tar­geted polic­ing is­sue that led to for­mer Chief Shan­non’s rift with the mayor and sub­se­quent res­ig­na­tion, Bereda says he has no plans for “ag­gres­sive pa­trols” and po­lice as­sign­ments will be datadriven.

“Bridge­port Bor­ough is seven-tenths of one square mile. That’s it,” he said. “There’s no zones. There’s one patrol zone, it’s Bridge­port, that’s it...The beau­ti­ful thing in that is that it’s small and be­cause of that our re­sponse time to any one place is go­ing to be about a minute or so, so I don’t fore­see that be­ing a prob­lem.

“I be­lieve col­lab­o­ra­tion takes dia­log and there’s got to be a higher de­gree of dia­log and that’s some­thing I’ve al­ready ini­ti­ated. I will al­ways be there to talk to peo­ple. I will sup­port the mayor in his du­ties. I will find in­di­vid­ual ways to es­tab­lish re­la­tion­ships... If we have that, we can cross all di­vides.

“I’m stay­ing. I’m not leav­ing. I’m not go­ing any­where. I’m a Ma­rine and I don’t walk away from any­thing,” Bereda con­tin­ued, ad­dress­ing the other press­ing ques­tion around town for the fourth po­lice chief to serve in the bor­ough in as many years.

“I’ve had a great ca­reer in law en­force­ment for 33 years. There were very few days that I felt like I was go­ing to work, but I will work tire­lessly to keep the peace through­out the bor­ough.

“It’s about get­ting the pulse of the com­mu­nity, what’s re­ally go­ing on, what are the problems and where are they, so I can bet­ter serve the po­lice of­fi­cers here and we can do a bet­ter job,” Bereda said of his polic­ing phi­los­o­phy.

“Bridge­port Strong is look­ing good, feel­ing good, want­ing to make a dif­fer­ence and hav­ing a pas­sion, and all of those ob­jec­tives I be­lieve will be met.

“Suc­cess comes from col­lab­o­ra­tion. It’s not from the top down. The in­sti­tu­tion has got to be big­ger than the in­di­vid­ual. I al­ways be­lieve that.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BRIDGE­PORT PO­LICE DEPT.

The Bridge­port Po­lice Depart­ment poses with new Chief Todd Bereda af­ter his swear­ing in at Bor­ough Hall.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BRIDGE­PORT PO­LICE DEPT.

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