After hearing about Chief Merchant, reading about him, meeting him, Googling him, and then hearing him speak at a meeting of Canton Rotary Club, I am highly impressed with him.
I was not surprised when I learned he is an athlete. Tall and slender, he appears to value physical fitness. Actually, he attended Seminole Community College in Sanford, Fla., on a baseball scholarship.
When he began his college career, he had no plans to be in law enforcement. He had a calling, and Merchant says himself it was a calling to law enforcement, after he enrolled in a course in Criminal Justice.
He chose the Criminal Justice elective for the same reason many of us chose some of our subjects in high school or college. We thought it would be easy for us to make an “A.”
It was not long before he decided he liked law enforcement even more than he did baseball. Soon after that he joined the Oviedo, Fla., police department.
One day a civilian was assigned to ride with him. The person was a former Marine. You have probably heard the expression, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” While the two were patrolling, the conversation turned toward the Marines. Merchant must have liked what he heard for he was hooked. Within the week he was in a Marine recruiter’s office taking his oath and committing the next four years of his life.
On a personal note, my grandson, Mark Wells, recently decided college was not for him.
So, he decided to leave Reinhardt University and join the Marines. With all of the things I have heard about boot camp at Parris Island, as a grandma is expected to be, I am very nervous about our Mark being there. I am not concerned about his being at the top of his Parris Island Marine class. I just want him to survive.
Merchant’s family did not need to be worried about him. He graduated at the top of the class.
But that is far from his greatest accomplishment. That may have been when he was assigned to Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) in Quantico, Va. It is a very elite group.
One of the chief responsibilities of HMX-1 is protecting and transporting by helicopter the president of the U.S., vice president and other dignitaries. Chief Merchant’s assignment was during the administrations of both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Returning to civilian life he applied for a position with the Altamonte Springs Police Department near Orlando. Anyone who knew him should not have been surprised when he became the chief of police. But it was not easy handling that position. Supervising a police department of about 100 police officers in a city of more than 43,000 is an awesome responsibility.
Merchant had prepared himself well. Going back to college he earned a master’s degree in criminal justice. Unlike that first course, I feel sure they were not all easy “A’s.”
Previously he had earned a bachelor’s degree in administration from Rollins College.
During his tenure in Altamonte Springs, he graduated from the prestigious FBI National Academy and participated in multiple career development seminars.
Last year, Merchant retired as chief of police in Altamonte Springs after 31 years. He cited Florida’s mandatory retirement policy as the reason he left the job he loved.
Married with two children, he and his family were familiar with our area. They would pass through Canton as they went to family property near Ellijay.
He became aware of Canton’s search for a police chief when a friend in law enforcement called his attention to it.
In spite of his college degrees and extensive on the job training, Merchant is back in school.
He does not have far to drive for classes to meet Georgia’s additional requirements. Evenings, he is at Reinhardt University.
Merchant has been described as Canton’s Harley-Riding chief. Considering the number of Harley-Davidson riders and fans in our midst, that is another reason he most likely will turn out to be a perfect fit.
Congratulations Chief Robert Merchant and congratulations again to the city of Canton for having chosen such a highly trained, competent and experienced chief of police.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.