The abrupt and mysterious suspension of the Baltimore police commander who ran the district that includes Harbor East, Little Italy, Fells Point and Canton left community leaders scrambling to make sure the fight against crime won't get lost in yet another controversy.
Melissa Techentin, who heads the area's Police Community Relations Council, spent Thursday morning fielding e-mails from concerned residents who woke up to discover that Southeast District Maj. Roger O. Bergeron III, an 18-year veteran, had been stripped of his gun and badge and sent home Wednesday evening.
"People feel very nervous that all of their concerns are going to be put on the wayside," said Techentin. "They have a working relationship with this individual, and now they feel they aren't going to be heard."
Techentin said she spoke with Deputy Maj. William Davis, who is now in charge, and said that he is up to date on pressing issues. "There's not as serious a gap with focus as people might think," she said.
Rumors are swirling as to why Bergeron was suspended, and top police officials aren't saying. (Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the inquiry is not criminal but related to a personnel issue.) He is the latest in a series of city officers recently in trouble with either the law or their own department - distressing news that top commanders know is yet another obstacle in restoring community trust.
Last month, an officer on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force was charged by federal authorities with embezzling money; another was accused of theft after police said he was caught in a sting stealing money from an officer posing as a drug dealer; and three officers were suspended for failing to properly take a report from a rape victim.
That's on top of incidents earlier this year in which officers in the marine and helicopter units staged a fake raid to help a state delegate propose to his girlfriend, a sergeant handcuffed a homicide detective in a dispute at a crime scene and two other officers were suspended after a teen complained they abducted him and abandoned him in a park outside the city.
Bergeron is the highest-ranking commander to face an inquiry in recent months. His name may not be well known throughout the city, but he's a household name to residents in Southeast Baltimore who actively participate in police community meetings.
District commanders' jobs are taxing and relentless; they have to run districts with upward of 200 employees, be attentive to myriad community interests and keep their bosses at police headquarters happy with low crime statistics and satisfied residents. They end up facing the news media and residents at meetings and can get calls at all hours of the night from the commissioner and lawmakers.
They lead neighborhood walks and appear at nightly meeting. Most, Bergeron included, freely hand out their private cell phone number and encourage people to call with complaints and suggestions.
Bergeron frequently answered questions on community blogs, and in August he stood on Bank Street during National Night Out and played with a rock band made up of officers called Damn Shame.
Bergeron has not responded to repeated calls to his home and cell phone, or to e-mail requests seeking comment. He made news in 1994 when he and another officer shot and killed a man who lunged at them with a knife and a hammer during a standoff, and again in 2004 when he oversaw a case in which a man had abandoned his children in a muddy field in Cherry Hill.
The major earns $89,862 a year, and Techentin said he was working toward a master's degree. This year, he started a side business in motivational speaking called Life Strength Solutions, which lists his name and contact information, but not his affiliation with police.
"Work with Roger to develop your innermost strengths and enjoy your life to its utmost potential," according to the promotional material posted on the Internet, which calls Bergeron "a dynamic and enthusiastic personality."
Bergeron now awaits his fate from the Police Department on whatever it is he is alleged to have done wrong.