A Morgantown native and 27-year veteran of the Morgantown Police Department is now its chief of police.
Chief Eric Powell, 52, who served as interim police chief since the resignation of former chief Ed Preston in June 2020, was announced as the MPD’s next leader Tuesday by city manager Kim Haws.
“I am honored to lead a team of professional men and women who strive every day to serve the City of Morgantown with compassion and commitment,” said Powell. “It is a great honor to have the support of our community and city leadership. We will continue to work together to keep Morgantown and its citizens safe.”
Powell, who has served as an officer, detective, first line supervisor and deputy chief, was recommended by Preston as the next chief. Then city manager Paul Brake decided to let such an important position be filled by the next city manager as he prepared to leave for a job in Michigan.
Haws said he was glad he was given the opportunity to fill the position.
“I have to have full confidence in the police chief because there are so many decisions that are made on the spur-of-the-moment that he can’t always check in and get a consensus,” Haws said. “… If I couldn’t trust the police chief to do that, I’d be in real trouble.”
He said despite their short time working together he and Powell already have a “really good relationship of trust.”
The hiring committee included Haws, assistant city manager Emily Muzzarelli, human resources director John Bihun, mayor Ron Dulaney and Jack Clayton. Haws said Clayton, a “long-since retired” police chief in Harrison and Marion counties, as well as faculty at Fairmont State, provided the law enforcement perspective.
Three candidates from 45 applications were interviewed.
Haws said his tendency, if a department is meeting the standards, is to hire from within. In his visits to the MPD and in talks with its officers, Haws said he sensed professionalism, a love for the job and no major discontent.
“Having said that then, in my mind unless someone was overwhelmingly more qualified than Eric it made sense to hire internally,” Haws said. He added Powell understands the culture of the department and the community.
He also said Powell had the rare combination of both being a technically sound law enforcement officer and a good manager on the administrative and organizational aspects of the job.
Powell is a graduate of Morgantown High School, where he played basketball and baseball. He joined the MPD in 1997 after four years as a correctional officer with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department.
Becoming the chief of police of his hometown police department wasn’t always Powell’s goal.
“I think it’s something that’s evolved as I’ve progressed throughout my law enforcement career,” he said. “My first goal when I started was to become a detective.”
Powell said detective work was his passion and he thought he would spend his career as one. But as he grew through his experiences, his perspective changed. The thought of one day becoming a chief first came when he was promoted to sergeant and moved out of the detective division.
Patrol officers and detectives have focused and narrow jobs but as a chief there is a responsibility to make sure all the parts are working and to recognize then correct any problems that come up.
“I think that finding the solutions part really appeals to me a lot,” Powell said. “Not fixing but recognizing what needs changed and affecting that change and doing it in a way that betters the department as a whole.”
Being a law enforcement administrator offers a wider scope and overview of the job, Powell said. You have to look at the bigger picture as far as placing people in the right positions and getting the right training for them.
“And you know that you have a direct impact on the quality of the department as a whole through the decisions you make. And I just find that very appealing,” Powell said. “Knowing that it also comes with a great deal of responsibility and probably a lot of headaches.”
Powell’s plans for the department include building its relationship with the community.
“I really want to work hard at specifically improving our working relationship, our relationship with the community as a whole. I want this department to be much more involved in the aspect of engagement with the citizens,” he said. “That’s something I think is very achievable and we should be striving for today.”
He also wants to see some improvements to facilities and an increase in officers, which has been below the allotted number for some time. Though those aren’t necessarily things he can control.
Powell also plans to take a “good, long, hard look at some of our policies” while developing new ones and changing others to make sure they’re in tune with what’s going on nationally.