As he finished taking the oath of office to become Fayetteville’s 25th police chief on Friday, Kemberle Braden was offered some advice.
“I have one more instruction,” said Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons after administering the oath. “Kiss your wife, shake my hand — and get it right.”
Braden is the city’s first police chief of Asian descent, succeeding retiring Chief Gina Hawkins, who was the first Black and first woman to have the job. Hawkins had been police chief for five years.
The ceremony was held at 4 p.m. Friday in the City Council chamber at City Hall.
More than 150 people attended, spilling into an overflow room. Among them were former Police Chiefs Harold Medlock and Tom Bergamine.
Braden, who is 49, assumed the job Wednesday, having been promoted from the rank of assistant chief. City Manager Doug Hewett made the hire.
Braden was one of two finalists for the job; the other was Assistant Chief’ James Nolette, commander of the department’s Specialized Services Bureau.
With his left hand on the Bible and his wife, Beth, close by his side, Braden repeated the oath as Judge Ammons read it:
“I, Kemberle Brady, solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States,” he repeated. "That I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the state of North Carolina and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of North Carolina, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. ...”
Afterward, the new chief spoke briefly from the podium on the challenges ahead.
“I stand before you today very humble about the opportunity that has been given to me,” he said in a serious tone. “Twenty-seven years is a long time. It’s a long commitment. And today, I reaffirm my oath, which is the same oath that I took 27 years ago. I reaffirmed that as the chief of police. So, as I look around the room, I see many of the chiefs that came before me. And I have to think back in 1996 under Ron Hansen. He gave a 22-year-old kid (an opportunity).
“To me, today is not a culmination of my career. It’s the start of a new chapter.”
Braden has more than 26 years of experience with the Fayetteville Police Department.
‘It’s an awesome responsibility’
Earlier Friday morning, Braden sat for a half-hour interview in his upstairs office at the downtown police station and said he is not intimidated by what lies ahead.
“Sometimes you feel the pressure of — OK, this is a very important decision. But intimidation, I don’t think is a part of it. I think, inherently, if you feel out what’s right or wrong, guide what you do, no matter if you’re a police officer or whatever you do in life, I think we all know the difference between right and wrong and let right and wrong be the guiding principles of the decisions that you make. And it makes a lot of those decisions very easy. …
“You know, prior to becoming the chief, every day I came in, I always had a chief of police that I could actually run my ideas by,” he said.
Braden said he had to answer to former Chief Hawkins, who “ultimately had the responsibility for whatever happened in the department. Today, Gina Hawkins was that safety net that I had. She was the person ultimately responsible.”
When he assumed command of the department, he knew that things would be different.
“Day 1, when I came in, I realized I no longer had that person above me that was ultimately responsible,” Braden said. “At that point, all the responsibility fell on my shoulders. So, I think it’s something that you’re aware of. You step into that role, that position, ultimately all the decisions that are made, all the actions made by every officer within the Fayetteville Police Department, that all rests and lies with you now.
“I think that it’s a lot of responsibility; it’s an awesome responsibility to have. It’s a lot to take in, as well.”
Braden said he was told just after Christmas that he would be the new chief.
“I’ve had about a month to wrap my mind around things. I’ve been coming in doing the work on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been signing paperwork that needs to be signed. I’ve been doing all the things that a chief will do pretty much for the past several weeks, anyway.
“February the first, it wasn’t, like, all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with responsibilities,” he continued. “I think it was a good, gradual, graduating experience in having those couple of weeks with Chief Hawkins here as I assumed a lot of those roles and responsibilities. So, I think the whole transition was smooth.”
Commitment to service
Braden said he would not put a time limit on how long he anticipates being police chief. He said he will take each day as it comes.
“Kem Braden will be here as long as his presence is needed, is effective and having fun doing the job that he’s doing.”
Braden has called Fayetteville home for 45 years.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Leadership Development course and the Police Executive Research Forum Senior Management Institute for Police.
He started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer assigned to the Murchison Road area. In recent years, Braden has been the field operations commander for the Police Department, supervising patrol operations and investigations.
In 2002, he was honored with the Police Purple Heart and Officer of the Year awards.
Braden and his wife have two grown children and two grandchildren.
“I’ve held position in every rank up to chief of police,” he noted “People talk about when you take a promotion, you change. I don’t think people change inherently. I think our roles, our responsibilities change, which causes that perception that you’ve changed.
“No, I can’t worry about the things that I worried about yesterday because now I have a whole different responsibility,” Braden said. “I’m no longer just responsible for Kem Braden as a police officer. I’m no lon.er responsible for six or eight officers as a squad. I’m no longer just responsible for a unit. I’m no longer responsible for a patrol district; I’m no longer responsible for a bureau. I’m responsible for it all. And each one of those steps has different responsibilities and different things that you have to do on a daily basis.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.