Longtime Baltimore police commander dies suddenly

A 27-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department who retired in 2001 and went on to work in corporate security at the Johns Hopkins medical institutions died Sunday after falling in his home on Sunday.

Hopkins announced the death of John L. Bergbower, 60. He had been vice president of security for the medical institution. He joined Hopkins in 2003 after working for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Bergbower joined the city police in 1974 as an Eastern District patrolman, putting his first assignment near where he would later end his career at Hopkins. He also taught an undergraduate course at Hopkins in economics, the same institution where he earned a masters degree in management in 1998.

I knew Bergower as the major of the Southwestern District and an always willing participant in news stories. That was back in the day when district commanders were expected to talk not only to the public, as they do now, but to the news media.

He allowed me to tag along with undercover police officers in 1998 as they busted out-of-town residents who came into the city to buy drugs. He proposed putting up a welcome to Baltimore billboard at the city's entrances warning addicts that they would be arrested if they visited the city to fuel their habits.

"These are viable taxpaying homeowners who have lived in their homes for years, and they are watching thier neighborhood crash around them," Bergbower told me then. "They don't know what to do and they want us to do something about it."

He said that suburban residents know the city is dangerous to buy drugs in, "yet they are willing to come here, get out of their cars and walk to a vacant rowhouse in the middle of the block in the inner city. It astounds me. The average citizen thinks this is an inner-city problem. It's not. My drug dealers are making a living off middle-class citizens who come here to buy drugs and then retreat to their homes in relative safety."

Bergbower was blunt and outspoken. He ended his police career on a sad note -- caught up in a childish pursuit by commanders of another officer who took home an unmarked police car. Bergbower had given the officer permission, but a higher ranking commander thought the officer had stolen the cruiser and set up an elaborate sting to catch him in the act.

It failed, but Berbower paid the price. He demanded the police colonel be investigated for "unprofessional conduct" and then put in his retirement papers. The colonel was eventually ousted by then Commissioner Edward T. Norris.

Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks opined at the time that Bergbower's premature departure was a terrible loss for the city.

"Here's a guy who ran a unit that last year was credited with having an impact on crime," Rodricks wrote, referring to the major's final assignment running the warrant squad.

The viewing will take place at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road, Towson, Md. 21204 on Wednesday, April 4, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The funeral will be held on Thursday, April 5, at 9 a.m. at Ruck Towson Funeral Home Inc. with the interment at 10:30 a.m. at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.



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