Former Logan Twp. chief well respected
Bellwood native Tim Mercer said from the time he was a kid, he wanted to be a police officer, specifically, a state trooper.
He recalled an incident while growing up when a state trooper responded to a call in Antis Township.
“I was so impressed by the professionalism and demeanor of the trooper, and I thought that this is what I wanted to do because I enjoy helping people,” Mercer said.
Mercer said during his time as a state trooper, from 1988 until 2015 when he retired as a lieutenant colonel, certain experiences definitely stand out — such as when he was one of the troopers tasked to determine the cause and origin of the Logan Valley Mall fire in December 1994.
Mercer was also a trooper responding to the 1989 prison riot at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill as well as the Penn State riots in the late 1990s and the 2011 riot in State College when Penn State fired Joe Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke.
Mercer was also involved in the investigation of high profile homicides, including several in Blair County such as the murder of 11-year-old Melody Curtis in Tyrone in 1996. It’s crimes against children and delivering death notifications to families that Mercer said were the saddest experiences as a police officer.
Logan Township Police Officer Richard Benzel said Mercer’s experiences and variety of duties with the state police made him someone officers could go to in just about any situation.
“He had his hands in everything there,” Benzel said.
Benzel pointed out that as a trooper, Mercer was involved in developing and implementing the statewide aggressive driver enforcement program. He was experienced with arson investigations, accident reconstruction, homicide investigations and saw the benefits of bringing state-of-the-art technology to the department.
“He is the most positive person I’ve ever met,” said Benzel, who added Mercer was a fair-minded boss who was well-respected and trusted by the officers. Benzel said Mercer’s retirement is a loss for the township, not just the police department.
Tyler Prisk, who was hired as a Logan Township police officer in early 2016, said Mercer was a hands-on chief of high moral character who led by example.
He had an open-door policy, whether it was about work or a personal issue. “He was a supervisor you didn’t mind going to and asking for help,” Prisk said. “He’s just an outstanding person, overall,” Prisk said, adding that even with Mercer’s accomplishments with the state police and depth of experience, he’s a humble guy who isn’t arrogant.
Taking on the job of a municipal police chief after retiring from the state police wasn’t exactly planned, Mercer said.
“When I retired from the state police, I thought my law enforcement career had concluded,” Mercer said recently as he talked about his more than three decades wearing the badge. “Then came this opportunity to come back to my home community and finish in that capacity, helping my neighbors and friends.”
Mercer announced his retirement in the fall after a health issue — one he said that has been addressed — came to light. His official duties officially wrapped up with the hiring last week of David Reese as the township’s new chief.
“The accomplishments made by this department are certainly not the results of one individual,” Mercer said. “This has been a group effort of talented police officers and administrative personnel that continually push each other to new heights.”
Township supervisors and residents have also shown unwavering support for the police department, Mercer said. That support was shown by the fact there were zero complaints lodged against officers in Logan Township in 2017. For a busy department with more than a dozen officers, that speaks volumes about how the officers conduct themselves in the community, Mercer noted.
His advice to new officers and anyone considering a career in law enforcement: “If you’re considering this profession, it cannot be about the money,” Mercer said. “It has to be a burning desire inside yourself that you want to help people. It’s a difficult and rewarding career that involves a lot of sacrifice.”
Those include rotating shifts, working holidays and missed family events.
“The reward and satisfaction is immense when you can help somebody or make your community a safe place for others.”
A lot has changed in police work over the years and not all for the better, he said.
“Unfortunately, the level of violence and danger officers face” has risen, Mercer said. When he first started, shootings involving officers were extremely rare, Mercer said. In his last year with the state police, there were 12 shootings involving troopers.
A positive change — one Mercer said has been among the biggest — in law enforcement is the advancement of technology. In 1988, police still used typewriters and carbon paper.
“Today, we have in-car computers, a variety of cameras – in-car and body cameras,” Mercer noted.
What hasn’t changed is the fundamental nature of the job.
“Policing is still policing, and citizens still need help,” Mercer said.
Still, he said, over the years he’s noticed a lessening of respect for law enforcement that has made the job more challenging. High-profile incidents across the country that Mercer said were probably not handled correctly by police have painted law enforcement negatively with a broad brush.
“So it’s incumbent upon law enforcement to work hard to overcome the negative perception held by some. He said he has talked regularly with officers about the concept of compassionate policing.
“It’s fairly simple,” Mercer said. “We treat everyone — from victim to witness to suspect to accused — with dignity and respect,” he said.
As for the future, Mercer said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and, hopefully, traveling across the United States. He said he’ll miss the people at Logan Township the most.
“I’m truly blessed to be part of the law enforcement family for 30 years, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with many outstanding professionals in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Mercer said. “I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to be in this career. In my heart, I’ve felt I’ve helped make our communities a safer place to live. To me that makes all the other sacrifices worthwhile.”
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.
THE MERCER FILE
Name: Tim Mercer
Education: 1984 graduate of Bellwood-Antis High School, bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Penn State University in 1988, State Police Academy graduate 1988, 10-week FBI Academy program for police
executives in 2006
Career: Retired as a state police lieutenant colonel in 2015, interim Penn State University Park police chief 2015, Logan Township police chief, 2015-18
Family: Wife, Sally; three daughters: Morgan, 24, of Altoona; Lindsey, 22, of Pittsburgh; and Kamryn, 18, of Bellwood