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Chief seeks $3.3M in upgrades

Warren police head wants to use portion of ARP funds

WARREN — Police Chief Eric Merkel provided city council a wish list of nearly $3.3 million worth of items and programs he said the department needs to bring it into the 21st century.

Merkel wants the money to come from the city’s $28 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. His request was made during a police and fire committee meeting in city council chambers.

Some community members who attended the Wednesday meeting were disappointed when committee Chairman Mark Forte, D-4th Ward, and Councilman Andrew Herman, D-2nd Ward, opened the session by announcing there would be no discussion about the recent rash of shootings in the city.

Herman noted that several of the recent shootings occurred in his ward. He added he will call for a council-as-a-whole meeting next week specifically to talk about the violence happening in the city that will be open to all residents to express their views.

The councilman said he was told since discussions about the violence was not on the police and fire committee meeting agenda that was sent out, it would be illegal to have those discussions as part of its agenda.

Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, questioned why residents who attended Wednesday’s meeting could not discuss their concerns after the conclusion of the police department’s presentation. However, she was overruled.

Several residents walked out of the meeting. Others separately met with Mayor Doug Franklin in the city council caucus room to discuss their issues.

WISH LIST

Items on the police department’s list are 10 new police cruisers; a street crimes van; two unmarked vehicles; computer equipment; cell-site mapping hardware; crime-mapping programs; a cellebrite Premium program that will allow the department to download information from cellphones; equipment for its street crimes unit; 75 handguns and holsters; 25 cameras that can be placed around the city; four drone systems; 50 bulletproof vests and 15 heavy vests; and a Citizen Awareness Academy and Police Athletic League programs.

Safety-Service Director Eddie Colbert said that while the items on the list may be paid for using ARP funds, the administration, working with Auditor Vince Flask, may look at other funding sources — such as the general fund, the city’s impound lot and grants — to pay for some of it.

Merkel noted the cost of fully loaded police cruisers are about $65,000 each, so purchasing 10 would be $650,000.

“The cost of cruisers has increased about $10,000 each,” Merkel said. “The 10 cars would leap us forward to where we need to be, as opposed to drifting forward and keeping our heads above water.”

The cruisers would have WatchGuard Mobile Vehicle Recorders on the dashboards and provide body cameras for officers to wear as part of the package.

The department is looking to buy a fully loaded street crimes unit van, at an estimated cost of $70,000, to transport officers to drug raids. The department rents vehicles each time they go on these raids.

GENERAL FUND MONEY?

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, questioned whether the city already has a formal plan to replace patrol cars, since it has potential funding sources through the tow lot, police confiscations and the general fund account.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” she said. “I would hate to use ARP funds without seeing a car replacement plan. The type of vehicles we’re buying are expensive.”

She does not want to use the ARP funds for items the city normally would have purchased using general fund money. Colbert said the department is too far behind in purchasing replacement vehicles to depend on the impound lot fees to bring the department up to date in the number of cars it needs.

“It has collected $120,000 from the impound lot fees and another $19,000 in cars that were never claimed and sold,” he noted.

Rucker said council is going to need more information on some of the items that are on the department’s wish list.

“I’m just a believer that continuing things that the department needs should come from the general fund,” she said.

Merkel wants to purchase 25 surveillance cameras that can be placed at different locations around the city. The department will use $218,000 that Gov. Mike DeWine announced the department would receive during his visit to Warren last month to purchase seven cameras. However, those cameras are in addition to the 25 the department is hoping to buy with ARP funds.

Councilman Ron White, D-7th Ward, questioned how many Watchguard MVR and body cameras the city now has, since it is requesting 25 additional ones, not including the ones being purchased with the new police cruisers.

“Eight,” Merkel responded.

He noted the department is working to replace some of the older cameras that use a different operating system that the city is working to phase out.

Colbert acknowledged some of the cameras may not be needed if all the cruisers are purchased.

Saffold requested some of the money be used for a police substation in her ward, which is where some of the recent gun violence has occurred.

Councilman Todd Johnson, D-1st Ward, asked if the city has projections on maintenances programs.

“I believe that we should be minimally using the ARP funds for things that we could not typically get using the city’s general fund accounts,” Johnson said. “We would still have to purchase some of these things if we did not have the ARP funds.”

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