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Bramhall a 'Calming' Influence for W. Caldwell Police

Chief successfully overcomes first hurdle since November promotion.

There have been the fellow officers and supervisors who have worked alongside Michael Bramhall over the years, but Naomi Moylen perhaps knows West Caldwell's new police chief the best.

Moylen was hired as a dispatcher a month after Bramhall joined the department back in December of 1988 and has watched as the now 42-year-old climbed through the ranks to the ascension of chief in November.

"I have kind of watched him grow," said Moylen, who left the dispatch desk to become the department's secretary of the chief nearly five years ago. "Mike is a very nice balance in the department. You can walk into a place and some people are like colors, they make everything nerve-wracking. If you're like that and you walk in and Mike is there, everything kind of calms down. He has a very calming personality."

That persona helped ease the tension following the town's announcement on Dec. 21 of police layoffs and demotions that would eliminate two officers and demote four others. In the days afterward, Bramhall remained optimistic a deal could be reached between the sides, which was accomplished last Wednesday that will avoid any cutbacks and maintain the department's 27-member force.

"He got sworn in as chief and jumped right into the whole negotiations and what was going on. It's certainly something that I don't think any other chief has had to endure right out of the gate," Councilman Dominick Aiello said at Sunday's re-organization meeting.

"You certainly should be commended for bringing everyone together, coming to a common place and the police department realizes the budget constraints that we're under and the sacrifices everyone in town was making. We certainly appreciate that effort on your behalf."

While Bramhall was aware of potential cutbacks within the department, he, like the officers involved, was formally notified of the layoffs and demotions on Monday, Dec. 21—a day in which Bramhall was reminded of the rigorous challenges a department's commanding officer endures.

"I would say it has to be one of the most difficult things that any law enforcement manager would have to be involved in," Bramhall said. "[Dec. 21] was a very difficult day for me. It was probably one of the most difficult days for me as a police officer in my 21 years. It was a very difficult day for me as well as the other officers in this agency."

But following three negotiation sessions, an agreement was reached last Wednesday that will prevent any personnel changes within the department and will save the town approximately $130,000 a year. Among the concessions, the police agreed to a slight reduction in salary and no paid overtime for training sessions.

"Now we can get back to the business of police work," Bramhall said earlier this week.

The "police work" hasn't changed much over the last 21-plus years since Bramhall first joined the department as a patrol officer.

The calls, however, have increased and investigations into certain incidents have become more complicated with the evolution of technology. The police who once responded to verbal disputes at the high school are now investigating incidents like threatening e-mails and text messages, Bramhall said.

"We're certainly busier now. We're handling more calls for service," he said. "We have more traffic and certainly more volume of calls. But things are fairly constant. We're dealing with the same types of calls that we were 21 years ago, but just more of them. Calls are more complex now. Certainly technology has created a different avenue of calls for us as far as frauds go and Internet thefts. It's created a greater demand on our personnel and certainly our investigative personnel. Criminals have adapted to technology and it has forced us to adapt to technology as well."

Throughout the years, Bramhall had learned to adjust to all aspects of the job through his supervisors, including former chief Charles Tubbs, who went on terminal leave last March before officially retiring at the end of June.

A captain with the department since 2003, Bramhall was appointed officer-in-charge in April and promoted to chief in late November.

"I certainly learned from Chief Tubbs over the years. I've also learned from a lot of others that I've had the privilege to work with over my 21 years," Bramhall said. "I'd like to think that I'm modeling myself after some of the tremendous supervisors who I've worked for.

"I felt we always had a very professional police department. We've had outstanding supervisors as we do now who I have had the privilege of coming up through the ranks with. I feel that has molded me into a good officer, hopefully a good administrator and hopefully preparing me to be a good police chief." 

Among Bramhall's initial challenges has been coping without a captain and maintaining the same level of service to the community while being cognizant of the budget.

"My goal, as it has been as captain, is to maintain the high level of service we have been providing taking into account the cost factor," said Bramhall, who lives in Roseland with his wife of 17 years, Debora, and children, Joseph, 16, and Rachel, 13.

"I know budgets are going to be more difficult. 2009 was a tough budget year. 2010 is not going to be any easier. I'm hoping there's light at the end of the tunnel."

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