After winning $19M discrimination lawsuit, St. Louis County officer promoted to head of new diversity unit
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Big changes are coming to the St. Louis County Police Department.
The agency promoted more than a half dozen new officers Thursday afternoon, including Keith Wildhaber, who just won a $19 million dollar discrimination lawsuit against the department.
In October, a jury ruled in favor of officer Wildhaber, who claimed he had been passed up for promotion multiple times because he is gay.
He has now been selected to head the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Unit.
On Thursday the veteran officer, now promoted to lieutenant, was met with applause among fellow officers and close friends.
Both Chief Jon Belmar and Wildhaber declined an interview after the ceremony.
Not everyone was happy with Wildhaber’s appointment. The Ethical Society of Police said in a Wednesday statement that it was disappointed in the decision.
“The fact that there was no selection process held for such an important assignment signals to us the lack of sincerity in the Department’s commitment to address diversity and inclusion for all of its employees,” the society said.
The department is appealing the discrimination lawsuit. They would not comment on the status of that appeal.
Official statement from the St. Louis County Police Department
“Yes, the entire Department has completed that training prior to and after the verdict. The entire Department went through implicit bias training in June of 2014 as one of Chief Belmar’s first initiatives as the Chief of Police. The entire Department again went through the training in 2016. Additionally, the entire Department went through Constitutional law and racial biases in 2019.
Approximately 90 members of the Department attended training by the Anti-Defamation League coordinated by in the recent past. The Department is exploring the possibility of expanding the training…..While they were not all mandatory, many officers benefitted from attending each class.
The new Diversity and Inclusion Unit should certainly represent all members of our diverse Department and public that we are proud to serve. To accomplish that goal, Captain Juan Cox will serve as the Bureau Commander of the Bureau of Strategy and Risk Management, which the Diversity and Inclusion Unit will fall under.”
Official statement from the Ethical Society of Police
“The Ethical Society of Police (E.S.O.P.) is asking for an inclusive process during the implementation of the newly-formed Diversity and Inclusion Unit within the St. Louis County Police Department (STLCPD). The head of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit should have a strong history of being a champion for racial diversity, inclusion, equity and demonstrated the prerequisites that would lead him/her to be selected as the most qualified employee. It is from that lens that we are extremely disappointed with Chief Jon Belmar’s selection for the Diversity and Inclusion Commander. The fact that there was no selection process held for such an important assignment signals to us the lack of sincerity in the Department’s commitment to address diversity and inclusion for all of its employees.
STLCPD lags behind many police departments nationwide with regard to Diversity and Inclusion, as noted in the findings of the 2015 U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) collaborative review of the Department. Moreover, Chief Belmar has been consistently tone-deaf to the concerns raised by African-American regarding discriminatory practices and disparate treatment of minorities relative to hiring, selection to specialized units, disciplinary actions and promotions.
The creation of a unit dedicated to addressing the aforementioned issues is a step in the right direction. However, we question the strength of the motivation for meaningful change as the creation of the unit came only after STLCPD was hit with a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit brought by then Sergeant Wildhaber who has been chosen to head the new unit.
In 2013 when then-Lieutenant Rick Hayes was terminated for instructing several STLCPD officers to racially profile and arrest African-Americans in the South County area, there was no thought of a Diversity and Inclusion Unit. By the way, Rick Hayes is back on the force. In 2017 when Officer Nikki Brown, a black female officer, filed a detailed 21-page complaint stating STLCPD employees not only subjected her to sexual harassment but discriminated against her and also several African-American recruits within the police academy, there was no thought of a Diversity and Inclusion Unit. In 2018 when E.S.O.P. expanded into STLCPD and explained how many African-American officers felt marginalized within the Department and provided several examples of such treatment, there was no thought of a Diversity and Inclusion Unit.
STLCPD has had a race issue long before Chief Jon Belmar; however, he has done little to adequately address the problem. We wish the Diversity and Inclusion Unit could have occurred sooner when African-Americans were soliciting help and repeatedly met with him. And, thus far, the implementation has failed to properly address the divisive issues that exist in STLCPD.
To proceed into a more racially inclusive environment, the E.S.O.P. strongly suggests mandatory cultural competency and implicit/explicit bias training for all ranks within the Department, and a diverse group of employees to be included in the new Diversity and Inclusion Unit.”