Bringman retires after 47 1/2 years of service

(From left) Three Rivers Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe, Three Rivers Police Chief Tom Bringman, and St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite. (Alek Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

After 14 1/2 years as Three Rivers’ chief of police and 47 1/2 years with the Three Rivers Police Department, Tom Bringman is calling it a career.

Bringman was honored Tuesday by the Three Rivers City Commission with a plaque recognizing his nearly five decades of service to the community, and was celebrated by colleagues, family, and citizens alike at a retirement ceremony held in the commission chambers just two hours prior.

Many notable local law enforcement officials attended the ceremony including St. Joseph County Sheriff Mark Lillywhite, County Det. Sgt. Chad Spence, Three Rivers Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe and Three Rivers Sgt. Matt Kilbourn, among others. Bringman said his retirement plans include moving to Florida, which is a big deal considering he’s never lived outside of St. Joseph County, and avoiding golf as much as possible.

“I don’t know about golf,” Bringman said. “I have golf clubs but I might go with 12 balls, and might come home with none. It’s not pretty.”

Bringman shakes hands with Three Rivers Mayor Tom Lowry while accepting a plaque recognizing the police chief’s nearly five decades of service to the City of Three Rivers. (Alek Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

The 70-year-old has become a staple in the City of Three Rivers in part because of his longevity but more so because of his open door policy, and accessibility to the public.

“I think it’s important to earn and build trust with the community, with the people of our community, and the only way to do that is to talk to them,” he said. “Maybe discuss things you could do a better job at. You have to earn trust, they don’t just give it.”

A display honoring Bringman set up outside of his retirement ceremony. (Alek Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

Lillywhite and Smallcombe pointed to Bringman’s ability to connect with the public as one of the attributes they admire most about the man they’ve both worked alongside for more than 20 years.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, he’s always going to give you a fair shake,” Smallcombe said. “He’s always honest and wiling to listen to people, let them tell their side of the story. He might not always decide in their favor but he’s always going to listen to you, and I think that’s something we need to remember to do because at the end of the day we’re here to serve the public.”

Lillywhite said when he was undersheriff Bringman was someone he could “lean on” and “seek guidance from,” something Bringman consistently encouraged.

“One thing I like about him is he’s always promoting working together,” Lillywhite said. “We don’t have those measuring lines, we work together as a county, we have to and we need all of our resources from within each of our agencies to (serve) the citizens of the county. And I think just hearing the reinforcement (is critical). I think we get jagged, we might get callused where we expect things (to be standard knowledge) but we have to remember there’s a lot of new people in law enforcement, a lot of new faces in each and every agency, so (it’s important) to reiterate that, to remind ourselves that, ‘hey, we have to work together.'”

With a decision on who will succeed Bringman on the horizon, we asked the outgoing police chief what attributes he would look for in a successor. “I would want them to hold officers accountable to treating people with respect, and to realize that we truly are here to serve the community. Our positions are just that, we’re here to serve. I’ve always told (officers) the rank you achieve marks your level of responsibility, not your level of importance.”

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.