St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson retired Wednesday, one day after Mayor Lyda Krewson took over. The news was welcomed by those who’ve been critical of the 47-year-old, including some Board of Aldermen members and the African-American officers’ association.
“There will be a new direction. And there’s new opportunity. In a new administration, you often change key folks,” Krewson said.
Dotson, who was chief for more than four years, will stay on as a consultant for a year, according to a news release from Krewson’s office.
“The chief and I were talking this morning about the direction of the police department and of the city,” Krewson told St. Louis Public Radio. “Chief Dotson decided to retire.”
When asked whether he was fired or retired, Krewson said: “It was a retirement.”
Dotson issued a statement Wednesday, saying the conversation with Krewson was “good” and that he offered to retire during it.
“As I transition to my new role, I have the utmost respect for all of those who wear the badge and the uniform,” he said, calling it “my honor and pleasure to have led” the department.
He’s been with the city’s police force for 23 years, a tenure not without controversy. In October, the Board of Aldermen voted on a resolution calling for Dotson to resign because he was considering a run for the mayor’s office. Then an alderman, Krewson abstained from that vote.
The homicide rate also went up during Dotson’s tenure. New 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad told St. Louis Public Radio that Dotson’s retirement is a “step in the right direction.”
“He’s almost like a ghost. The only time you see the chief is when the camera’s on. But when something goes wrong in north St. Louis, he’s nowhere to be found,” Collins-Muhammad said. He added that there’s been a decline in policing in his ward under Dotson.
The Ethical Society of Police, an organization that represents the city’s black officers, had said in 2015 that it lost confidence in Dotson because of certain “internal practices,” including a lack of a comprehensive community engagement plan; promotions based on relationships, rather than qualifications; and a lack of diversity in the department’s command staff.
Sgt. Heather Taylor with the society said Wednesday that Dotson was “in over his head,” making decisions “based off who he knew … and it was his downfall.”
“When you have homicides and violent crimes occurring in Gravois Park, Dutchtown, Goodfellow, north St. Louis … you have to get a hold of this because we’re talking about public safety,” Taylor said. “I was never convinced that Dotson understood how to use manpower to deal with violent crime, which is the No. 1 issue plaguing our city.”
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
Krewson told St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast in March, before the Democratic mayoral primary, that she wouldn’t commit to getting rid of Dotson.
Mayor Lyda Krewson delivers her address after taking the oath of office on Tuesday.
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“I am not of a mind that I’m ever going to go around saying who I would fire or who I would hire before I actually do it. I actually think that’s unprofessional and bad business,” she said.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner thanked Dotson in a statement for his service, and echoed Krewson’s forward-looking sentiments.
“We are in a unique position as a community” with new leaders, she said. “For all of us, public safety is our top priority. We have serious and urgent issues to address and we must continue to look for new ways to reduce crime long-term and build trust in the criminal justice system. I believe this is an opportune time to evaluate where we are, where we want to go and how we want to allocate our resources to help create a safe, progressive, growing community for all residents.
Lt. Col. Larry O’Toole, who is the department’s assistant police chief, will take over as acting chief while an internal and external search for a permanent replacement begins.
Collins-Muhammad said he wants Krewson to look for someone with “a diverse background, someone who truly understands how to police in large metropolitan areas, someone who understands how to effectively police constituents and citizens and not just deal with hot spot policing and tactics that do not work.”