By Ed Runyan
In June, Lt. Eric Merkel is likely to become chief of the Warren Police Department.
Merkel, who scored an 83 percent on the civil- service test for the position, was nine points higher than lieutenants Martin Gargas and Robert Massucci and 11 points higher than Capt. Janice Gilmore.
The results won’t be final until after the candidates have a chance Tuesday to challenge the questions and answers.
Afterward, the civil-service commission will certify the results.
Chief Tim Bowers retires in June.
The change at the top is significant in a department that has been beset with controversy over the past decade, mostly involving civil-rights violations that the U.S. Justice Department investigated during the final five years when John Mandopoulos held the job.
Since Bowers became chief in 2009, the department has dealt with a shrinking number of officers, dropping from 81 to 61 on Jan. 1, 2009, to cope with a budget deficit.
It has 62 officers now, including the chief.
Merkel, a 1987 Howland High School graduate, has worked for the department since 1995 and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice studies from Kent State University and a master’s degree in police administration from Youngstown State.
The results of the 150-question multiple-choice test, which was given Feb. 27 in the city’s Operations Department office, were revealed Wednesday morning during the civil- service commission meeting in the city’s Data Processing Department.
Merkel, who said the results were the “worst-kept secret in town,” was the only one of the four candidates to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Afterward, Merkel said he’s “excited about the results and looking forward to the working with the command staff” of the department, much of which is also changing in the coming months.
“I would have been proud to work with any of the people” who took the chief test, he said.
In addition to Bowers’ retirement in June, Capt. Joseph Marhulik retires in the next couple months, and promotional tests for captain, lieutenant and sergeant will be given because of several vacancies that will result.
When asked if he foresees making changes as chief, Merkel said he believes it makes sense to look at ways to address the drug problem in the city, which he called “one of the pressing problems in the community.”
The department’s narcotics unit was disbanded when the 2009 layoffs occurred, but the city participates in the operation of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force by providing personnel to it.
The unit, called TAG, is headed by Lt. Jeff Orr of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office with support from the Trumbull and Ashtabula county sheriff’s offices and other agencies.
The Rev. Frank Hearns, a member of the civil- service commission, said he wishes the city was able to consider police chief and fire chief candidates from outside the ranks of current department employees, but its status as a statutory city means the city follows civil-service rules, which don’t allow it.
The city would need to become a charter city to allow a candidate from outside the department, he said. Hearns said he doesn’t have a particular problem with Merkel, but Merkel is “a part of the system,” which Hearns said he believes needs to be changed.