Profile of a chief

Berlin’s all-business style focuses on community, excellence and well-being

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 13, 2013

ROSEVILLE — A few months shy of a year into his role as police chief, James Berlin has defined his role as a leader and the department’s emphasis on community.

Berlin takes his role as police chief seriously, he demands hard work and excellence from his employees, but his no-nonsense attitude isn’t a reflection on heart because, when it comes to the city of Roseville and the police officers who serve here, Berlin has a whole lot of heart. And, his vision for the department stems from a mix of his love for the community and his hard-working attitude.

“Vision can differ from place to place and person to person, but I believe we are here to serve the public, and we need to remember that, and I am trying to instill that value into the department,” Berlin said.

“I want our officers to be more visible, more in the community talking to people, etc., etc. I want to do more community-outreach programs. I’d like to get us into the schools more, in with the rec centers, in with the kids more. I’d like to do anything we can do to improve relations between the police and the community. I want to build bridges, build trust.”

It won’t be something that happens overnight. There are some big obstacles in the way — money, personnel and training. Throughout the past few years, the department has faced cuts to budget and staff, and coupled with that is the fact that many of the things Berlin wants to do require certification.

“Everything we do, we have to be certified in,” Berlin said, offering the example of a self-defense class he wants the department to be able to offer to residents.

“If I teach you a certain self-defense technique and you severely hurt someone or kill someone because of it, because I taught you wrong, then we are responsible for that, we are liable for that. Because we are a government organization, we are liable for everything we do.”

The officer who got certified to teach the class recently retired, and while Berlin is hopeful the class will be a reality in the near future, for the time being, there just isn’t enough manpower and funding for it to be plausible.

“We’ve had a lot of transitions over the last 8-9 months with retirements and budget cuts, but we haven’t dropped any services,” Deputy Chief Don Glandon said.

“We’re still a full-service police department, and a large part of that is always from your department head. Chief Berlin has done a fine job, an excellent job, and he’s communicating with the public and addressing issues of concern.”

Berlin’s not the type of person to just put something on the back-burner though, so for now he’s implementing his vision in any way he can, and one of those ways is by directing patrol officers to just get out there in the community, like he used to when he was a patrol officer for nine years from 1981-90.

“I’m trying to instill a certain culture,” Berlin said.

“When I was a young patrolman, I used to go talk to all the kids in the neighborhood in my assigned area. All the kids knew me. ‘Officer Jim. Officer Jim.’ Well, they knew me and they trusted me and they were a fountain of information — but it works both ways. They trusted me and they would tell me things they might not want to tell others, and I would be able to go combat some type of wrong in that neighborhood.”

His description of community policing is reminiscent of the good old days, when officers carried brown paper bags of groceries across the street for little old ladies. He said those days might never come back, but the idea behind it is what he’s aiming for.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to go back to those days, where we’d have time to walk an elderly lady across the street, but they are our clients — the residents are our clients, and we need to protect and serve them the best we can.

“I always tell the guys they are not to be anybody’s punching bag, whether physically or verbally, but at the same time, they are never to instigate an encounter. Treat the citizens with respect and usually you get respect back.”

The idea of a mutual respect between residents and officers goes back to his overall vision of a community-focused department. He dreams of a future for the department in which the majority of resident-police interactions aren’t negative and the department has a partnership with the community it serves.

“Virtually any contact the average citizen has with a police officer is negative — something they own was stolen, they got into a car accident, they got into a fight, they got beat up, they got robbed; whatever it is, it is very, very rare that someone has a positive interaction with a police officer. Be it they are a victim or a suspect of a crime, it’s usually negative,” Berlin said.

“We are people, too, and just to have a positive interaction with a cop, it can go a long, long way for the community and the department.”

Berlin’s dedication to the city is substantial. He’s spent his entire career — more than 30 years — in Roseville working his way up from patrol officer to evidence technician, the SWAT team, salvage-vehicle inspector and field training officer, then through the ranks of detective, sergeant, lieutenant and deputy chief before he earned his seat at the top of the department.

“Maybe I’m just from a different generation, but the way I was raised is, you give your all to your job and your employer,” Berlin said. “The city has given me everything I have today; I’m just trying to give a little bit back. It’s just something you do, something everybody should do.”