Berlin Borough police swore in a new chief on Feb. 3, the same department member who spent some time as acting head of the force.
Michael Scheer took the oath of office before a full courtroom. He takes over for Millard Wilkinson, a 29-year veteran who retired to begin a new career as a borough councilman.
Scheer – a 20-year veteran – was hired by the police department in 2003 and eventually claimed the roles of patrol officer; detective; detective-sergeant; and, most recently, lieutenant.
Scheer’s passion for police work began at an early age, when he developed a relationship with his stepfather, Gloucester Township officer George McCall.
“Being a young child, seeing him put the uniform on and go to work every day, undoubtedly had an impact on me,” Scheer recalled. “Later in life, I realized it’s what I wanted to do. It was my passion.”
Scheer got a bachelor’s in law and justice at Rowan University, and later joined the police academy as an alternate route candidate. It was 2011 when Scheer considered a department change in the detective bureau.
“From 2011 to 2019 is when my career took a different path, learning the in’s and outs (of police work),” said Scheer, who added that the connections he made while working as a detective shaped his foundation as a police officer today.
“I met so many different people who were influences on my career, (in different) agencies,” he observed. “The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, state police, FBI – just different local municipalities … “We (worked) hand in hand with so many different agencies.”
Scheer specifically noted the help of retired chief Bill Townsend during the year-long investigation of a sexual assault case that began in 2011. Scheer said Townsend helped him gain a better understanding of case processing, not only in sexual assault cases, but law enforcement across the board.
“The conversation I had was influential in where (I wanted) my career to go,” Scheer noted.
One of the main differences Scheer noted between the roles of acting and official chief is the extra responsibility now on his shoulders, including issues with fellow officers. He alluded to police killings of suspects in Memphis and around the country.
“When I see things like (those killings), you can’t help but have sleepless nights,” Scheer acknowledged. “When things go bad, they don’t start with the patrolman, they start at the top … as they should, because (I am) responsible for that training (in those) situations.
“(That’s why) it’s so important to maintain your training, to discuss when you have a major incident, to debrief those incidents and say, ‘Hey what went right, what went wrong?’ You are always getting better.
“There is always room for improvement.”
The new chief said his leadership style is oriented toward maintaining the bonds among officers, rather than reprimanding or making an example of someone.
“The only time you will ever see me yell at someone in front of another officer is a (safety issue),” Scheer pointed out. “I will always (handle) business behind closed doors …”
The department released a statement following Scheer’s introduction.
“We would like to congratulate Chief Scheer on his accomplishments and promotion and look forward to the future he has prepared for the community and department as their chief of police,” the department posted on Facebook.
Scheer said above all, he is grateful to his fellow officers and those who came before him for their support, as well as that of his wife and three children, Mayor Rick Miller, council and local police leaders.
“I’m very thankful for my opportunity first and foremost,” the new chief said. “I’m so thankful for all of my predecessors who I have learned so much from over the years … (This) is definitely a proud moment. I know how much it means to my kids, my wife.
“It kind of hits home for me.”