By Ed Runyan
Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel has taken steps in recent weeks to provide more consistent access to information about major crimes occurring on nights, weekends and holidays.
Merkel has responded to complaints from the news media about lack of timely information about the Oct. 26 killing of Richard Rollison IV by promising to provide a computer with access to police reports in an area of the police department accessible to the public at all times.
It’s not clear when that will be available, he said.
Merkel, sworn in as police chief in June, after scoring highest on the city’s civil-service test to replace Tim Bowers, said he also plans to have the officer in charge of each shift trained by Dec. 6 in how to print police reports for the news media relating to timely incidents.
The chief issued a memo Friday afternoon informing shift commanders of their new responsibilities.
The shift commander working Friday morning was not available, and a message left on his or her voicemail was not returned.
The department’s records office was closed, and the department’s public information officer did not answer his desk phone.
It is similar to what happened the afternoon of Oct. 27 — 36 hours after Richard Rollison IV was killed at the Sunoco gas station on West Market Street in a 12:54 a.m. incident.
News media who were unable to talk to police officials were able to learn from Richard Rollison III of Warren that it was his 24-year-old son who died just after midnight Oct. 26.
He also provided first-hand information relating to the killing, having gone to the scene after the shooting and asking his son what happened.
The first information provided by Warren Police Department was Oct. 28, when Lt. Jeff Cole, public information officer and officer in charge, had a news conference and announced that TaShawn “Boo” Walker, 26, had been arrested in Texas in connection with Rollison’s death.
Rumors and speculation were rampant over that weekend because TaShawn Walker is the brother of Taemarr Walker, who died from being shot by a Warren police officer exactly one week earlier.
At a news conference Nov. 6, when asked if the police department should have told the public that TaShawn Walker, 24, had been charged Aug. 26 in Rollison’s death, Mayor Doug Franklin said the department is “working on a protocol to just address those things, particularly on the weekends, when we don’t have our public-information officer on duty.”
The department’s press-relations policy, last updated Aug. 1, 2009, says the department’s public information officer, division commander and shift commander are possible sources of information during a “major crime or incident.”
If the public-information officer is not available — such as nights, weekends or holidays — the shift commander should be contacted, the policy says.
Merkel and Cole have said Cole no longer has a city- issued cellphone, and members of the news media are not privy to Cole’s personal cellphone number.