By Ed Runyan
Though the most significant change that occurred in the Warren Police Department on Tuesday was the installation of Eric Merkel as chief, officials called it a “historic day” for more reasons than that.
Also taking the oath of office was Robert Massucci, who takes over as captain in charge of support services such as dispatching, grant writing and records.
Massucci, who comes from a law-enforcement family, said Merkel’s knowledge in law enforcement has “pushed me hard” to prepare for promotional exams. “It was a long, hard road. I never thought we’d get here,” he said.
John Yuricek Jr. took his position as lieutenant; and Gregory Coleman, Bryan Holmes and Geoffrey Fusco were elevated to sergeant.
All six men are relatively young, with between nine and 21 years with the department.
With many of the department’s top officers taking retirement, it has opened up opportunities for younger officers to step up.
“This is a new day, a great day,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said.
“It’s unusual to see a change of the guard to the extent that you’re seeing today,” said Enzo Cantalamessa, Warren safety-service director.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said Merkel, who’s been with the department 18 years, values education among Warren’s police officers, not just for a couple weeks at a time, but also on a day-to-day basis.
Hicks said that attitude will help the department continue to progress as it implements a 2012 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that resulted from unconstitutional policing practices dating back a decade or more.
“Eric is the type of person who says, ‘Tell me what the rules are, and we will follow them,’” Hicks said.
The law department has assigned an assistant law director to work closely to assist with day-to-day decision-making, Hicks said.
As for Merkel, he said studying for the promotional tests that resulted in promotions to captain and chief in the past couple months isn’t just a matter of learning from a book.
“When we study for these exams, there’s a stack of books, and you just can’t in two months learn all that unless you’ve honed your craft from the day you started here — constitutional law, policies, and you have to get all that down or you’re not going to score well on the exam,” he said.
Merkel said later he’s got plans to assign Sgt. Fusco to work closely with the dozens of neighborhood organizations that have formed in recent years to ensure that their members get the training to assist law enforcement with community policing.
He’s also going to create a street-crimes unit with a handful of officers who will focus their attention on various problems in the city — from nuisance issues such as abandoned cars to violent crimes and especially drugs and guns.
Four new officers will take the oath of office today, helping to replace the three patrol officers who were promoted to management positions.
Among the family and friends who attended the ceremony was Joan Coleman, mother of Sgt. Greg Coleman, who said her son’s work as a police officer makes her proud.
“He cares about his work deeply and his fellow officers,” she said.