He’s already got the keys to the office.
Michael Berry began his duties as Rincon police chief Monday and was sworn in by Mayor Ken Lee. Berry, a former precinct shift supervisor with the Newport News, Va., Police Department, said what appealed to him about Rincon was its small-town and community atmosphere.
“I’ve been involved with the city of Newport News for 17 years and last year, we had 33 homicides,” he said. “Most of those were in the precinct I supervised. So it’s a little much. I’m looking for a school system and a community I can be proud to raise my kids in and hasn’t been tarnished by crime.”
Berry initially came to Rincon in February to conduct an ethics seminar.
“All the officers went through the class,” said City Manager Donald Toms. “When they heard he applied (to be chief), they said they sat through his four-hour class and if he could motivate (them) through a subject that is usually dry and boring, they’d like to see what else he could do.”
A search committee of Toms, City Clerk Wanda Hendrix and two current Rincon police officers selected and interviewed the finalists. They interviewed three from a pool of 13 who met the criteria set for the position.
The city was looking for someone who had at least 15 years of experience and was working for an accredited agency.
That eliminated three applicants, Toms said.
Berry came through as “genuine and down to earth” in his interview, Toms said. “He’s a police chief who’s going to be fair and responsive to the officers and public. He understands how the laws work and operate. That’s what really struck us, his professionalism throughout the interview.”
Toms was in the planning department at Newport News when Berry was in internal affairs for the NNPD. He dismissed as inaccurate a posting dated Feb. 7 on the Virginia Police Chiefs Association Web site stating Berry had been hired.
Berry was in Rincon at that time, but he was here conducting the ethics training, Toms said.
Toms made his recommendation to the city council at a March 17 workshop. An official letter went out the following day, and Berry accepted on March 19, Toms said.
Berry enjoyed his initial visit to Rincon to conduct the ethics training.
“I was really impressed with how nice everyone was,” he said. “It was very accommodating, very polite, a lot of Southern hospitality.”
It was a contrast to Newport News, which has “a lot of hustle and bustle,” he said. The coastal Virginia city is home to an Army base (Fort Eustis), an Air Force base (Langley) and the world’s largest naval base.
Berry said he turned in his resignation to the Newport News Police Department, where he had been for 17 years, in early March. He was in line to become chief of a small police department in Wyoming when he found out about the chief’s position in Rincon.
That department was smaller than Rincon’s, and there were also budgetary issues, Berry said.
Newport News has a population of approximately 180,000 and a police force of more than 570.
“I had more officers on one shift (in Newport News) than I have in the whole department here,” Berry said.
He wants to add to the ranks of the Rincon Police Department. Currently, the department has three vacancies.
“We want professional officers that have been trained that have backgrounds that are impeccable,” Berry said. “We want to start with the best we can get.”
Rincon’s pay for police officers is comparable, he said, but if he needs to raise the salaries to attract better candidates, Berry said he would. He also may ask city council for more positions in order to be more proactive in crime prevention.
“We want to try to quell crime before we get the call,” he said. “There are some pockets of criminal activity here involving narcotics. Right off the bat, (we want to) take care of those before they get out of hand like a wildfire.”
Berry also wants to build a command team and plans to modernize the department. He is also upgrading the evidence gathering techniques.
His brief time in Rincon also showed him the traffic congestion that builds in the mornings and evenings. He watched drivers “blatantly” running red lights, he said, and he may have his command team have officers monitor the more notorious intersections.
“It’s crowded,” Berry said. “In the evening, you can’t even get out of side streets in some places.”
He had spent his entire police career with the Newport News department and was promoted to sergeant after six years. Berry has attended several command and leadership schools.
“He has quite a record,” Lee said. “And we’re quite proud to have him here. I think he brings a lot to our city and he is going to bring a lot to our police department.”
Berry, who likes to hunt in his off time, and his wife Carolyn have two sons, ages 10 and 2.