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Veteran cop named Merrillville's first African American police chief

Veteran cop named Merrillville's first African American police chief

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Merrillville Municipal Complex

MERRILLVILLE — The town's next police chief looks to make history in the community.

Wiley Luther Cuttino will become the first African American to serve as Merrillville's top cop when he is sworn in next week, Councilwoman Marge Uzelac said.

The Town Council on Tuesday unanimously selected Cuttino to succeed Police Chief Joseph Petruch, who is retiring at the end of June.

Cuttino joined the Merrillville Police Department in 1994, and he was the first African American officer to serve on the force, according to previous Times reporting. Cuttino worked for Methodist Hospitals as a civilian security officer for 16 years before he joined the Police Department, according to previous Times reporting.

He and another Merrillville officer were interviewed about two weeks ago by the council for the chief's position.

Council President Rick Bella said Cuttino has several ideas to advance the department, including exploring the possibility of bringing back a police substation in the north end of Merrillville.

Cuttino didn't participate in Tuesday's virtual council session.

Bella said it's difficult to introduce the town's next chief during an online meeting, and he would like to have a proper introductory ceremony for Cuttino when possible.

Cuttino is currently scheduled to be sworn in as chief on Monday, but it isn't yet certain if that would be open to the public.

Uzelac, chairwoman of the town's Personnel Policy and Employee Benefits Committee, said the council followed the recommendations of the Merrillville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 168 and the town's Police Commission by selecting Cuttino.

“I'm hoping (Cuttino) does a good job,” Uzelac said.

She said she had discussions with Merrillville officers about Cuttino, and they indicated “they have a good rapport with him.”

Now that the council has acted on the police chief selection, Cuttino will work with Petruch until the latter retires to learn about the administrative side of the Police Department.

“Chief Petruch will be there to guide him,” Uzelac said.

Councilman Jeff Minchuk has long indicated he wanted to have the town's next chief in place prior to Petruch's retirement to “take advantage” of his experience.

Petruch is leaving the force after more than 40 years in law enforcement.

After serving with the U.S. Marines, Petruch became a police officer in 1977. He started his career in Gary and joined the Merrillville Police Department in 1979. Petruch worked his way up the ranks and became Merrillville’s top cop in 2007.

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