Canton's Harley-Riding Chief
Get a quick glimpse of the new chief of the Canton Police Department.
Robert Merchant is a Harley-riding former Marine who once protected U.S. presidents.
After more than three decades in law enforcement, all of them with the Altamonte Springs, FL, Police Department, he announced last April that he was going to ride that Harley into retirement on Sept. 30 and spend more time with his wife, two adult daughters and grandson.
That lasted a little more than seven months.
The fact that his retirement was so brief caught no one by surprise.
In Altamonte Springs, officials wrote in a career retrospective that "it's a good bet that Chief Merchant's retirement will be short-lived as new doors open for this highly motivated and skilled individual."
Public service, Merchant told the Orlando Sentinel in an April 2011 story, is part of who he is.
But it hasn't always been. Merchant didn't grow up wanting to be a cop.
His career in law enforcement began at Seminole (FL) Community College, where he attended on a baseball scholarship. He took a criminal justice course out of obligation, to fulfill a mandatory elective requirement. He thought it would be an easy A.
"To his surprise," according to a bio provided on Monday, "he discovered a passion for crime fighting that surpassed his love of baseball."
He joined the Oviedo Police Department in 1975, then the U.S. Marines.
He was assigned to the Presidential Helicopter Squadron, an elite division of the Marines that transports the president of the United States and other VIPs around the world. Merchant served under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. In his resume, he said he traveled to Panama, Egypt, Israel, Austria and throughout the United States.
When his military career ended in 1980, he applied for a job with the Altamonte Springs Police Department. He would spend the next 31 years there, rising to the rank of chief on May 1, 2002, a position he held until September.
"I don't believe that a police chief is a job," he said Monday after City Manager Scott Wood introduced him as Canton's top lawmaker. "I believe that being a police chief is a calling."