When Staff Sgt. Herb Berdahl looks back on his three-and-a-half years as detachment commander for the Sunshine Coast RCMP, he admits he was lucky just to be here.
“We don’t often, in this organization, get an opportunity to serve in our own communities,” Berdahl said in his office Wednesday, two days before his last day on the job. “Typically with the RCMP, when you sign on the bottom line, you’re prepared to go anywhere in Canada, and that’s exactly what happens.”
At 58, the retiring Mountie said he is going out on a high note.
“I really am. It’s been a terrific three-and-a-half years. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career.”
Born and raised on the Coast, Berdahl attended school in Roberts Creek, Sechelt and Gibsons, where he graduated from Elphinstone Secondary School in 1974. He played rugby and baseball, calling himself “a light-hitting first-baseman.”
One of his jobs was working as a gas attendant at the Shell station in Sechelt, where RCMP members used to stop to fuel their vehicles and sometimes talked about their jobs.
“I always admired them when I was working here as a kid,” Berdahl said. “I had the utmost respect for the police, and they did nothing to change my opinion about that.”
After being sworn in as police officer at the former School Road RCMP building in Gibsons in 1977, Berdahl completed his training in Regina then spent 11 years in rural Alberta. Next he was transferred to the Arctic, spending four years in isolated posts in the Northwest Territories before returning to B.C. to serve in Kaslo in the West Kootenays, then Courtenay.
In Courtenay he transferred into plainclothes and served in that capacity for 12 years, working in the serious crime division in Kelowna and then providing operational support to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team in Surrey.
Before he returned to the Coast, Berdahl told Coast Reporter’s Brent Richter that he intended to build strong communications with local government stakeholders and be responsive to the community’s policing priorities.
Looking back now, he said, “I have to say that I have been pretty successful at doing that. I didn’t reinvent the wheel or anything like that — I think there was a pretty good rapport between police and the communities here and the local governments. But I have fostered that, I think. It’s something that I was happy to do.”
Another stated goal when he came was to be open and transparent, both with the community and the detachment members — and the comments he’s received from people “indicate I was fairly successful in doing that,” he said.
“I’ve had a number of things in my career that I am proud of, but one of them is the work I’ve done here. I don’t want to sound self-serving, but I’m proud of the work that we’ve done improving working conditions here for the members. I’m proud of the relationships that I’ve continued to develop with the local government and the community. And on a personal note, I’m particularly proud of bringing the Musical Ride here, having some small part in that.”
For Berdahl, last summer’s Musical Ride had a deep connection to his past.
“I grew up here. I come from very modest means as one of seven children. My folks were blue collar. And I realized when we had the opportunity to bring the Musical Ride here, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people because the folks who are here may not have the financial means to travel elsewhere to see the Musical Ride.
“That was one of the driving factors for me — I wanted to maybe give a little back to the community, but especially for those folks who couldn’t afford to take their children to the Lower Mainland.”
The amazing turnout, he said, speaks to “the huge support that I’ve always felt in the community.”
Berdahl said he has no immediate plans for his retirement, which technically begins in January, but that he and his wife, Cindy Grafe, also a local product, would remain on the Coast, “certainly for the short term.”
Sgt. Mike McCarthy will head the detachment until a permanent replacement is named.
© Coast Reporter