Pass of the baton

WARREN – Tim Bowers said he believes the city police department is in the middle of a cultural shift, and he’s confident his successor as chief can continue to move the department in the right direction.

Bowers, who was named Warren’s police chief four years ago, is retiring.

Monday will mark his last day on the job. On Tuesday, Capt. Eric Merkel will replace him.

“I’d like to see (Eric) continue on the path we’re on,” Bowers said. “He might do it differently, but he knows how important it is.

”I meet with Eric almost every day. He has all the tools, the skills and education he needs to do a great job. If he applies all of that with the desire he has, I have no doubt he’ll move this department in the direction it needs to go for it to be the public service agency it should be.

”He’s been here long enough, and he knows the importance of that,” Bowers said.

Bowers was hired by the department in 1978 as a cadet patrolman. His scores on his civil service exams helped promote him to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief.

He gained some experience serving as acting chief before taking over when his predecessor, former Chief John Mandopoulos, retired in 2009.

Bowers explained one of his main concerns since heading up the department has been revamping the culture of the police department in the aftermath of a federal investigation sparked by community complaints. The U.S. Justice Department found the department guilty of unconstitutional policing through improper use of force.

“And we’ve been working to correct that,” Bowers said.

A 2012 agreement between the city and the justice department requires Warren police to submit data to the federal policing agency periodically. That agreement also required the police department to develop new policies and procedures that addressed appropriate use of force.

Bowers said he has worked diligently to provide training for his officers and to encourage professionalism throughout the department.

“We’ve made a lot of headway through training. I’ve been trying to change the culture and do what I can to get all of our officers to understand the importance of that. It’s hard to judge public perception, but trust is very important. We need to earn the trust of the citizens we’re here to serve,” he said.

Bowers said he is especially proud of the Citizen Police Awareness Academy, offered to citizens by the Warren Police Department and Warren Weed and Seed. The program allows participants an inside view of the day-to-day operations of the police department.

“I’m very happy with the way that program has gone. I think it’s helped build a better relationship between the police department and the community,” he said.

Bowers said another area of focus has been regionalization, or working with other policing agencies to fight crime. In 2010, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office presented him with the William French Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cooperative Law Enforcement in response to his efforts in that area.

“I’ve always believed in cooperative policing. Criminals don’t have boundaries, why should we? Regionalization, police departments working together, that is something I believe in. My philosophy has been agencies relying on each other. We’re not nearly as territorial as we used to be. It’s much more productive to work together than to not work together,” he said.

Cooperative policing is also a strategy Merkel said he hopes to continue and expand.

The city enlisted the assistance of several local, regional, state and federal agencies in an effort to bust up crime pipelines from here to Detroit and other major cities. The effort culminated April 17 when law enforcement rounded up dozens of suspected drug dealers across the Mahoning Valley and elsewhere during the area’s largest drug sweep in recent history.

Another example of that tactic came into play June 6 when the city police department and prosecutor’s office worked with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force to raid a suspected drug house, arrest the occupants on drug abuse charges and board up the structure. Merkel said these are examples of what he anticipates will become the norm in Warren.

“We’re very serious about cleaning up these problems citywide,” Merkel said.

Merkel was hired as an officer in 1995. He had been a police lieutenant for five years before taking the captain’s test. A 1987 Howland High School graduate, he has a criminal-justice degree from Kent State University and is a graduate of an FBI academy.

On May 8, the Civil Service Commission certified results of the police chief examination from March in which Merkel achieved the highest score, positioning him to take over for Bowers.

Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa described Bowers as a consummate professional who was very good at establishing objectives and coordinating plans to achieve his goals.

“He made the transition in my becoming the safety service director smooth,” Cantalamessa said. “He did not have to do that. I know that historically the relationship between some past safety service directors and police chiefs had challenges. We had a good working relationship.

“He was helpful in assisting me learning the nuances of the police department and law enforcement,” Cantalamessa said.

Former Mayor Michael O’Brien said he has known Bowers for 31 years and saw him rise through the ranks of the police department. O’Brien worked in the city jail when Bowers was a rookie in the department.

“He is a person that always took the opportunity to improve himself,” O’Brien said. “He knew his roles, whether it was as an officer or as the chief. He is a person who was strictly by the book.”

O’Brien said one of his strengths was being able to get what was needed to be done, regardless of the circumstances.

“At a time when the economy was bad, he was still able to do a functional job with limited funds,” O’Brien said.

Working with Bowers both as the city’s safety service director under O’Brien and as the city’s chief executive, current Mayor Doug Franklin said Bowers had significant input in modernizing the police department.

“He helped to transform the department into a more community policing philosophy,” Franklin said. “He inherited a lot of challenges set forth by the Department of Justice. It was valuable to have someone who was as professional as Chief Bowers at the helm during the transformation.”

Tribune Chronicle reporter Raymond L. Smith contributed to this report.