Published: 06:21 AM, Tue Jan 03, 2012
By Andrew Barksdale
Fayetteville’s police chief will retire July 1, ending a 34-year career that included the creation of a multi-faceted strategy to combat crime.
Tom Bergamine, who became the police chief in 2007, quietly made the surprising announcement Friday in a memo to his staff at the Police Department and his boss, City Manager Dale Iman, who was out of town for the holidays.
“It has truly been an honor and a pleasure being part of a great organization and serving the public for the past 34 years,” the memo said.
Bergamine did not respond to repeated phone messages Sunday and Monday.
When word of his retirement leaked to the media Monday, a city holiday, many on the City Council, including Mayor Tony Chavonne, were surprised by the news.
“He has served in a very professional way,” Chavonne said. “He has done a great job.”
Iman, who drove back into town Monday afternoon, said he wasn’t able to read the memo over the weekend. However, he said he had an inkling that Bergamine might be retiring soon, based on a conversation the two men had just before Christmas.
According to Iman, Bergamine recently visited the city’s Human Resources office to review his retirement plan based on his government service.
“He said it didn’t make a lot of sense to keep working financially,” Iman said. “He said he was going to have a long talk over the holidays with his wife, Debbie.”
Iman said he didn’t know Bergamine would act so swiftly.
“He felt like he had accomplished many things over so many years,” Iman said. “We talked about him going out on the high road and giving us enough advance warning to search for a replacement.”
Iman said Bergamine will be missed.
“Certainly, he’s going to be difficult to replace,” Iman said.
Iman said he intends to begin a national search to name a successor before Bergamine’s last day.
Tapped in 2007
In January 2007, Iman named Bergamine the interim police chief to fill an impending vacancy. In April of that year, Iman gave Bergamine, then 52, the job permanently.
A native of Bronx, N.Y., Bergamine had risen through the ranks with the Police Department, starting as a beat cop in 1978. He and his wife have three sons.
Today, the force has about 400 sworn officers and an annual budget exceeding $41 million to cover a city of more than 200,000 residents. The department’s national accreditation was recently renewed.
In 2008, the violent crime rate rose 23 percent in the city. The trend alarmed the City Council and put members of community watch groups on edge.
In response to the crime wave, Bergamine in 2009 unveiled what he called a community wellness plan that relied on various initiatives and calls for more police officers and equipment. The council beefed up the force, gave officers pay raises to reduce vacancies and hired a consultant in 2010 to recommend improvements to the Police Department’s operations.
In the past year, the city has installed about 100 camera systems in police cruisers.
Violent crime has dropped dramatically over the past two years, while the property crime rate has been stagnant during that time.
“I think he has had a very positive impact on the Police Department and our efforts to try to address crime and lower the crime rate through his wellness plan and community policing,” Iman said.
More recently, Bergamine has come under fire by some residents and two local organizations over police traffic statistics showing that black drivers are more than three times as likely as white drivers to be stopped and searched. The chief has denied that his department is guilty of racial profiling.
“I hope he’s not judged by this one issue,” Councilwoman Val Applewhite said.
Bergamine enjoys the respect of many on the City Council.
Councilman Keith Bates said he can’t blame Bergamine for wanting to retire after almost 35 years of public service.
“It’s a … stressful job,” he said. “I wish he would stick around, but when you feel the time is right, you should retire.”
In fall 2011, Bergamine was one of five finalists to become the Kansas City, Mo., police chief. He lost the job to an in-house candidate.
Iman said he doesn’t plan on naming an interim police chief before Bergamine retires.
He said the search for the next police chief would include bringing candidates before a panel of professionals in law enforcement and senior management and others. Iman said he was hesitant to make the process public. He said it’s important to leave politics out of such an important decision.
“I support the concept of getting community input, but unfortunately, most of those kind of meetings turn out to be cheerleading events for a favorite candidate,” Iman said. “That’s what happened in Kansas City, I heard.”
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3565.