St. Louis Post Dispatch: Some St. Louis residents cite mistrust, racial tension worries as city picks new police chief

St. Louis Post Dispatch: Some St. Louis residents cite mistrust, racial tension worries as city picks new police chief June 8, 2017

Some residents say they are skeptical of the city’s plan to include community input in the selection of the next police chief.

The residents were among those who spoke Thursday at a panel discussion at Vashon High School on policing strategies, including accountability and retention.

Panelists included Richard Frank, the city’s personnel director; John Chasnoff, co-chairman of Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression; and Sgt. Heather Taylor, Ethical Society of Police president.
Mayor Lyda Krewson formed a 13-member citizen advisory board to help select a new chief after Sam Dotson retired on her first full day in office.

Dotson had led the city’s department for more than four years before retiring. Krewson appointed Deputy Chief Lawrence O’Toole as interim chief.

Outside candidates are being considered for the department post for the first time in the city’s history. Police union leaders say the selection should come from within the department.

One man called the process in place to select a new chief a “crapshoot,” questioning why the mayor would broaden the search for a chief when there are qualified candidates already on the force.

The city’s minimum requirements for a candidate applying for the chief’s post is a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience. Those requirements could change, however, depending on public input, Frank said.

Much of the discussion turned to racial tension within the police department and community mistrust.

“This hire has to be someone who leads with integrity,” Taylor said.

Taylor said many on the force were concerned politics would cloud the decision on who would take the helm at the department.
But Frank assured the lengthy process that involves vetting from the committee and the public would weed out cronyism.

Other issues raised at the forum included the need for implementing community policing practices that target the root causes of crime and higher pay for city officers in light of a wage increase planned in the county.

Krewson, who attended the meeting, said the process to select a new chief is in the early stages and would likely take six to nine months to complete.
“We don’t know if we’ll hire someone from outside the city of St. Louis or someone from inside the city of St. Louis,” Krewson said in comments outside the meeting, adding “it’s an open question.”

She said she was fine with the skepticism expressed at the discussion.

Krewson said “everybody will be considered,” regardless of race.

“The reason I came tonight was to listen,” she said.

She added later that, though there were many suggestions of how to correct some city policing problems, “there is not money in the current budget for that.”

“This is a 20, 25 million dollar problem we have here,” she said.

The citizen advisory board will hold its first public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 1520 Market Street.


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