Chief Mark Clemence is retiring from the Birmingham Police Department after 38 years.

Chief Mark Clemence is retiring from the Birmingham Police Department after 38 years.

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Chief Clemence retires from the Birmingham Police Department

Top cop reflects on Birmingham’s changes since the ‘80s

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 25, 2023


BIRMINGHAM — After 38 years of service, Chief Mark Clemence has retired from the Birmingham Police Department.

Clemence spent his entire career serving the Birmingham community. Since joining the Birmingham Police Department in 1985, Clemence held every position possible before rising in the ranks to become chief in 2016.

His journey in law enforcement began after graduating from Michigan State University. Throughout his career, Clemence has completed over 2,000 hours of documented training and has graduated from the FBI National Academy and the Law Enforcement Executive Leadership Institute.

Part of the reason Clemence said he decided to stay with Birmingham for so long is because of the healthy work-life balance he was able to maintain in order to be present in his wife and three children’s lives.

He also appreciated how his work remained fresh and challenging as he would be promoted every few years to a new position, he said.


The development of Birmingham’s downtown
Since 1985, there have been many changes within Birmingham that Clemence has seen during his time with the department.

As far as the downtown area goes, Clemence noticed an obvious shift in focus since 1985. When Clemence began his career, Birmingham was known for having big department stores in town, such as Jacobson’s. Since then, these stores have closed and smaller businesses have taken their place.

“The real change has been that there is a much greater mix of retail and bars and restaurants than there were when I first started,” Clemence said.

Downtown Birmingham has also changed aesthetically, with new streets and amenities that are up to modern standards.

There are now more eclectic spaces for people to eat and hang out while enjoying the city’s environment. Additionally, more and more people are choosing to live downtown.

Birmingham’s crime rates have also gone down significantly since the beginning of his career, he said.


Maintaining a healthy culture
Clemence has worked through times when the public’s perception of police officers was positive and negative. Part of his job was to make sure the culture of the department was maintained.

“As a chief, you have to build a culture that your staff knows that you are 100% behind them and you are going to give them the tools, skills and the opportunity to do things the right way,” Clemence said.

The culture of the department is something that he said he is very proud of.

How police work has changed in 38 years

Clemence said that at the beginning of his career, law enforcement was very territorial, meaning Birmingham worried about what happened in Birmingham rather than neighboring cities.

“Throughout the course of my career, what we have done is we have broken down those barriers and we have now spent a great deal of time communicating with one another, sharing information, sharing resources, sharing personnel, sharing equipment, sharing intelligence,” Clemence said.

These improvements in communication have helped them do a better job of identifying and solving crimes.

Clemence has also experienced changes in equipment and processes with the rapid advancement of technology.

For example, Clemence recalls only having a police radio, a shotgun rack and sometimes a radar unit in the police car when he first started.

Now, Clemence described police cars as modern offices with computers, radars, ticket printers and camera systems in every car.


Moving forward
Clemence made the recommendation for Cmndr. Scott Grewe to take on the role of chief following his retirement; however, the final decision was made by City Manager Tom Markus.

“I think he’s a very bright, articulate man, and I think he’s going to do a great job,” Clemence said.

Clemence said he plans to start his retirement by taking a break and catching his breath after a long career that required hard work and dedication. He said he plans to take his wife on a couple of trips, and to spend time with his children and new grandson.

After about four to six months, Clemence said, he might consider doing something part-time to keep his mind sharp and stay active.