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Marion police chief takes job in Oklahoma

Endorses assistant chief for promotion

Staff writer

Marion Police Chief Josh Whitwell resigned as chief. His last day is Friday, and he is driving to Oklahoma on Saturday to start his new job next week.

Whitwell has accepted a position as a special agent in the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. He will be stationed in Ardmore, a city about the size of Salina located between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

Narcotics police work has been an interest for Whitwell since he became a Marion police officer in 2003.

“It’s exciting. I really feel, most crimes, 90 percent, are related to drugs,” Whitwell said. “A burglar stealing to pay for drugs or someone on drugs acting different than they normally would. In narcotics everything is always changing.”

In Oklahoma, Whitwell has a unique chance to be a part of one of the few state agencies whose only mission is policing drug activity. The stretch of I-35 between Laredo, Texas, and Oklahoma City has become one of the major avenues to bring drugs into the U.S. from Mexico.

“Oklahoma is very proactive in the enforcement of narcotics,” Whitwell said. “It’s probably a never-ending war, but if you do nothing it will only get worse.

As a special agent, Whitwell will be in charge of informants, undercover agents, wiretaps, research, and other investigations regarding the traffic of narcotics.

“It’s not about the town. I love Marion. I moved in from the outside and people always accepted me,” Whitwell said. “There’s more that I wanted to do in law enforcement. I wanted a chance to be more specialized.”

Whitwell, 31, has lived in Marion for the better part of 16 years, since his family moved from northeastern Oklahoma when he was 14. He has been chief of police in Marion for more than four years after working for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

He married Clark Wildin, his high school sweetheart, and they have three sons — Jordan, 11, Jacob, 9, and Jerid, 5 — who all attend Marion Elementary School. The Whitwells are just now putting their house in town up for sale.

Clark works as an office manager for Farm Bureau Insurance. The move to Oklahoma was also an opportunity for Clark, who has a master’s degree in accounting.

The former Marion chief will live in Oklahoma by himself for the rest of the school year.

Whitwell said he had been looking for an opportunity to take a job specifically in narcotics for the last two years — Drug Enforcement Administration and Border Patrol being two applications he submitted, each process taking more than year to complete.

His job as a special agent will be much different than his current job as chief of police. As police chief, Whitwell was the political bridge between the department and city council. Although he said he has always gotten along with the council, it is a side of the job he will not miss.

“Sometimes, chiefs don’t last long,” Whitwell said. “There’s only so far I can rise. I could be sheriff, but I don’t want to be.”

What he will miss will be working with Assistant Chief Tyler Mermis and officers Clinton Jeffrey and Brad Cady.

“I think the world of my guys,” Whitwell said. “I’m proud of what (the department) is now.”

The major change that Whitwell brought on as chief was more community involvement. He enjoyed being a visible member of the community. He organized Halloween and Night of the Rhino activities.

Part of being a member of the community meant sometimes showing restraint in throwing the book on Marion’s younger residents.

“We don’t want to give every kid a ticket for speeding down the hill. Maybe we’ll educate them — they don’t want to hit somebody walking outside of the park,” Whitwell said. “Talk to them; maybe throw in some jokes now we’re building a rapport. When they have a problem they come to us. Maybe it’s a real problem: they’re being abused or they know about burglaries. That’s really important to me.”

Although he was only Whitwell’s supervisor for a year, Marion City Administrator Doug Kjellin said working with the students of Marion was also one of Whitwell’s biggest impacts on the community.

“It’s more preventative policing,” Kjellin said, “trying to keep everybody on his side so he didn’t have to chase them at 2 a.m.”

Whitwell said the positive involvement the department has fostered with the community will grow when he is gone. Whitwell said Mermis has his endorsement for Marion City Council to promote him to police chief. The matter will come to a vote Jan. 9.

Mermis is still on military assignment with the Marines but should be back sometime in January, Whitwell said.

“Tyler developed a good rapport with the kids. He’s easy going, laid back,” Whitwell said. “But when it’s time for business, he’s ready for business.”

Whitwell said Mermis should be more equipped to deal with the political side of the job.

“He’s not going to let it intimidate him,” Whitwell said. “You have to remember, he’s a Marine.”

Regardless of whether the department is in good hands, Whitwell’s officers will miss their boss. Cady joined the department, after working in Peabody, partly because of Whitwell.

“The department he’s going to is getting a great officer,” Cady said.

Last modified Jan. 5, 2012

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