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Major Merlo: from factory work to law enforcement

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at 7:55 am


Charles Merlo didn’t grow up wanting to be a police officer.

Cops-and-robbers shows didn’t have an influence on him. In fact, until one day while he was working as a forklift operator in receiving at Empire Pencil Company, he had never given a thought about a career in law enforcement

“It is kind of a weird story,” Merlo said. “I was working in the factory and one of the guys I worked with, ‘Slick,’ his wife was Betty Lamb who was serving as interim city manager,” Merlo said.

Merlo was working in receiving and Lamb was a truck driver for Goggin. He suggested Merlo apply for a job as a police officer with the city.

“I applied and got a call that I wasn’t chosen,” Merlo said. “Then I got a call back later saying the people they had hired didn’t want it. The job was available if I still wanted it. So that is how I became a police officer.”

Merlo had completed basic training with the National Guard prior to working for Empire and was with the artillery unit based here.

He admits he had no idea what to expect once he put on a police uniform.

“I have always liked challenges,” Merlo said. “I have always liked structure.

“I really didn’t care about factory work…I just didn’t want to be enclosed in four walls in factory. I had this opportunity and I took it.”

His first year with the force was 1998.

“It was a fun environment, but it was also structured like it was supposed to be,” Merlo said. “I showed up and did my job and kept my mouth shut until I had earned the right to say something. I fell in love with it from day one.”

Merlo’s first experience prior to heading to the police academy was spending time with a fellow officer in field training. He says he felt like he was the poster child for what officers in training should experience.

“They always put you in with a training officer who teaches you things like radio etiquette, how to approach vehicles, and what you need to know to be prepared before you go to the academy,” Merlo said. “In the F.T.O. (field training officer) so much happened. There were car chases. I had a gun pulled on me at one point. I got into some scuffles on the road.”

Despite those incidents, Merlo never had any second thoughts about pursuing his new career.

“It was a little scary, probably, especially for my wife and family,” Merlo said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Merlo started on bike patrol around the Shelbyville Housing Authority areas. He formed a close friendship with Brian Crews, who left the department earlier this year for a new job.

The next move was to patrol. In 2006 he applied for a spot in the detective division and remained in that role through 2011. He went back to patrol work, but when a position as detective opened up again he became a sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He was promote to lieutenant and then top his present position as Major.

“In CID you are in the know about anything and everything,” Merlo said. “This more about administration.

“The Lord gave me the ability to separate myself emotionally from what is going on to make sure justice is served for the victims.”

His son, Justin, is deputy sheriff with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department. Another son, Tyler, teaches government at Shelbyville Central High School.

“I have children and grandchildren who are here,” Merlo said. “Being able to give back to the community and make it safe is most important.”

Merlo, a Shelbyville native, received a degree in information technology (IT) from Tennessee College of Applied Technology. He has been involved in the IT side of the department which prepared him for his new role.

“Major Merlo is very well-respected within the community and the Shelbyville Police Department,” Shelbyville Police Chief Jan Phillips said. “In his 26 years of service, he has always strived to be the best at any task that has been put before him. He is a true asset to our department.”