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