Savannah Police Chief Michael Berkow Resigns

Aug 25, 2009

After less than three years on the job, Savannah Chatham Metro Police Chief Michael Berkow submitted his resignation on Friday.

Berkow says leaving is difficult, but he has missed three years of his son’s life, and a new opportunity will bring the two closer together. Berkow will be based in California, as President and Chief Operating Officer of a new division of a company called Altegrity, a large company that consults on international policing efforts.

Berkow says he was approached about this position in April. Berkow says he will remain in Savannah through mid-October.

The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon along with Mayor Otis Johnson, City Manager Michael Brown, and County Manager Russ Abolt.

According to the Washington Post, Altegrity was formerly known as USIS, and renamed itself just last month. It is based in Falls Church, Virginia, but Berkow will be working for a division in Calif.

The Washington Post also reports the company drew current LAPD chief William J. Bratton to the company. Bratton will leave the LAPD in October. The article also says Altegrity is after about a dozen State Department contracts that are expected to be doled out in the next few months. Those contracts are “aimed at helping post-conflict democracies rebuild their public safety infrastructure,“ writes the Post.

Bratton was appointed as the LAPD chief in 2002. That means Bratton was chief during Berkow’s tenure with LAPD. No word if the two will work in the same division of Altegrity.

Altegrity’s website says it specializes in law enforcement training and “global security and training services”. Its units also provide background investigations for the federal government. The company says it is the largest commercial provider of background investigations for the U.S. government.

Berkow was appointed to the job in September of 2006. He officially started the job in November of that year. Previously, he was the LAPD Deputy Chief. He had served as chief for three California Cities.

Berkow told WSAV he was not seeking a job at the time of the search, rather he was recruited. On Tuesday Berkow told the media he “fell in love with a community that was both physically beautiful and wonderfully diverse…with real social concerns and crime issues.”

The search for a new chief did not come without controversy. An unsigned letter sent to City Manager Michael Brown and NEWS 3 in 2006 threatened physical harm and political ruin if Brown didn’t pick finalist and interim chief at the time, Willie Lovett. The letter also alleged Brown knew who he wanted from the start. Brown said the claims were not true, and told WSAV he had a “completely open mind” during the entire search process.

In December of 2006, NEWS 3 got wind of a lawsuit in Los Angeles, accusing Berkow of trading sex for promotions and of helping to cover up evidence in the murder of a famous rap star. Berkow called them nothing more than “ugly accusations.“

“I think it’s very unpleasant to be accused of anything,“ Berkow told WSAV’s JoAnn Merrigan at the time, “and I’m as human as the next guy. And frankly it’s a distraction to what we’ve started to work on here which are the problems.“

Sgt. Ya-May Christle claimed she witnessed indiscretions betwen Berkow and other female officers during the time that Berkow led the internal affairs division in downtown Los Angeles.

Christle said she was demoted, and then transferred for complaining. Her lawyer said the lawsuit was one of the reasons Berkow left Los Angeles. The lawsuit also claimed that while Christle worked in internal affairs, she compiled evidence linking the LAPD to the 1997 death of Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls.

Christle claimed her computer was taken, and the evidence regarding that case was destroyed. She alleged Berkow was involved in the cover up. Berkow was dropped from the lawsuit in 2007.

In a lawsuit deposition, Berkow admitted to having sex with one of his employees while he was still deputy chief.

Also that month, Berkow was named in a lawsuit by six LAPD officers, who sued the city of Los Angeles. They claimed they were discriminated against because of their race or disability. This lawsuit was thrown out in May of 2007.

During his first year as Chief of SCMPD, Berkow was also named in at least one other lawsuit, stemming from his previous position with the LAPD.

More recently, Berkow’s name has been mentioned in several other job searches.

In April of this year, Berkow confirmed that he did in fact interview for a possible job in the Cayman Islands. He traveled there to discuss a position with the Royal Cayman Islands Police.

At the time he told NEWS 3 that as a police chief with domestic and international experience, he is regularly approached about opportunities, but said he remained committed to serving the people of Savannah.

Berkow’s name was also mentioned as a possible candidate in the search for a new police chief in Oakland, Calif.