Police Chief Robert Merchant outlined his plans for the department to Rotarians during its weekly meeting at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center.
Merchant, who was hired in late May by City Manager Scott Wood as the police chief, talked about his plans to move the Canton department forward in light of recent issues that have plagued the local law enforcement operation.
The chief, who retired as the police chief from Altamonte Springs, Fla., said he’s excited to be in Canton and the majority of his time here has been focused internally.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp with how things are internally with the organization, (and) where I would like to take the organization,” he said, adding he’s never been afraid to make decisions.
He noted he used the first 60 days to interview each employee to get an assessment of how they viewed the department, their careers and their future at the agency.
Merchant also said that while he’s never afraid to make a decision, he’s assembled a committee of employees to get input on making changes within the department.
As someone who advocates a “participatory style” of managing, the chief noted he believes it’s best to include every employee in the department in the decision-making process.
“I can make the decisions, but I don’t want to be involved in making all the decisions within the organization,” he said. “I want them to see first hand how I want to lead this organization into the future because it’s not about me.”
Merchant did note the department has had some recent trials and tribulations, most notably the abduction and murder of Jorelys Rivera, 7, in December 2011.
Merchant was selected in the aftermath of the department losing former Police Chief Jeff Lance, who resigned his position in January amid controversy.
The department had been criticized for its handling and investigation into the Rivera murder.
Merchant recently fired former assistant police chief Todd Vande Zande, who served as interim chief and was passed over for the top position.
Vande Zande appealed his firing to Wood, but it was turned down and the former assistant chief has threatened a lawsuit.
While Merchant did not address the issue while speaking to the Rotary Club, he did say he’s left the position open and is not planning to fill it any time soon.
The police chief also did not directly address that last month the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation into Public Information Officer Sgt. Stacy Bailey for misusing funds for the department’s explorer program.
He did say that the Canton Police Department has 43 officers on staff, three civilians and three vacancies.
The chief said he has two positions for lieutenant open and is in the process of considering reorganizing the department.
An advocate for community policing, Merchant said he is anxious to work with the community to reduce crime in the city, most notably entering auto crimes.
The number one crime in the city, Merchant said entering autos can easily be avoided and he will soon introduce a program to crack down on the rates.
He also said the department recently acquired two bicycles and he’s encouraged officers assigned to the bikes to make patrols throughout the downtown area.
The police chief said he wants to encourage employees to work toward obtaining college degrees and to expand the scope of departmental training.
Merchant served in the United States Marine Corps between 1976 and 1980 where he was assigned to the security detachment for the Presidential Helicopter Squadron.
He joined the Altamonte Springs Police Department in 1980 and has been a commander of the department’s investigations bureau and deputy chief of the management support bureau and the operations bureau.
He was named police chief in 2002.
Merchant obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., in 1984, graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1994 and graduated from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Senior Leadership Program in 1997 and its Chief’s Executive Seminar in 1998.
He obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Florida in 2002.
Merchant and his wife, Donna, have two adult children and one grandson.
Merchant also said he’s not ignoring his neighboring jurisdiction in working together to prevent crime.
He noted he’s looking forward to meeting more often with Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison, and police chiefs Ken Ball of Holly Springs, Cal Moss of Woodstock and Dana Davis of Ball Ground.
“It’s truly a team effort,” he said, referring to fighting crime. “Crime has no boundaries.”