On Mayor Lyda Krewson’s first full day in office on April 19, she announced that Police Chief Sam Dotson, who had led the police department since 2012, was retiring immediately from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
She also said that she will “begin immediately” to find a new police chief and director of Public Safety.
After the initial shock settled, community organizations began organizing and sending out statements on what they would like to see in the search for police chief and Public Safety director. Several community leaders are urging a national search.
In an April 25 interview with TheSt. Louis American, Krewson said, “We are going to do a search. That means it could be local, it could be national. It will be both, but one doesn’t preclude the other.”
On Monday, she met with the Personnel director to talk about the search process, she said.
“Certainly that is evolving as we speak, and it probably will include some professional organizations and associations that will likely have a broader reach,” she said, regarding hiring a professional search team.
One of the first groups to publicly chime into the conversation was Forward Through Ferguson, an organization charged with implementing the calls to action in the Ferguson Commission’s report.
Forward Through Ferguson
On April 19, Forward Through Ferguson co-chairs Rebeccah Bennet and Zack Boyers sent an open letter to Krewson, laying out some specific actions they would like to see Krewson take in the search process. They believe the search should have a national scope, seek input from the community through public forums, and include community members and leaders in resume reviews and candidate interviews.
“There is no way to achieve racial equity without the community being centered in decision making,” Bennet told The American.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to see this as a platform for repairing that which is broken between our citizenry and our officers. If we don’t start here, we further compound the distrust and the disconnection between the two groups who absolutely need each other – our protectors and our citizenry. We want to see our mayor enter into the space of reconciliation and repair.”
Bennet said she did not hear back from Krewson’s administration regarding the letter, but Krewson told TheAmerican that she agreed with Bennet’s assessment. “Yes, the search process is an opportunity to demonstrate that we care about what the community thinks,” Krewson said. When asked if she envisioned including community forums in the search process, Krewson said that it was “likely.”
Krewson said the Ethical Society of Police had reached out to her about hosting community forums. When asked if she will be collaborating with the black police union on those forums or attending them, she said that she didn’t know because she didn’t know what the union had in mind.
Forward Through Ferguson’s open letter also stated that the candidates’ interviews should include relevant calls to action from the Ferguson Commission report. The questions should include appropriate use of force, the role of the civil review board, anti-bias training, officer well-being and holistic community policing.
Bennet said she believes that the mayor should include the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR) among the groups that she seeks to include in the search process. “They have been on the front lines in terms of fighting for effective policing for a long time,” Bennet said.
CAPCR has been spearheading the effort among community groups to present a united statement regarding what they want to see in the search process. They expect to have something to the mayor by Monday, said John Chasnoff, co-chair of CAPCR.
Chasnoff said that both the Public Safety director and chief are “equally important” in broadening the city’s perspective on public safety – looking beyond just arresting people and incarceration. “Jobs, education and healthcare are all part of the factors that people feel safe,” Chasnoff said. “We are hoping to find leadership in the Public Safety director and police chief that understands this. If you are looking at the larger picture of public safety, the role of police chief looks differently.”
The two positions could be seen as “problem solvers,” who see problems and are able to collaborate with social services and other government agencies to prevent crime – not just crime fighters, he said.
CAPCR suggests that Krewson establish a diverse committee that reaches out to the community about what they would like in a chief and Public Safety director. Then the committee would assist Krewson’s administration in writing job descriptions for both roles. When asked about these suggestions, Krewson said, “That’s certainly something to be considered. We will have community input, and we will have professional input and I don’t know if there will be a hybrid committee or not.”
CAPCR strongly urges a national search. Chasnoff said that it wasn’t until the city got local control of the police department that the mayor was authorized to look outside the city for a police chief. “Opening it up to an outsider will allow us to move in new directions more easily,” Chasnoff said. “This is our first time under the new state statute to do this kind of outreach.”
Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said the union was not sure that a national search is legal. While the state statute regarding local control of the city’s police department has changed, the City Charter provision remains in effect, Roorda said.
Koran Addo, Krewson’s spokesman, told The American that a national search was legal under the City Charter.
Roorda said that union wants input in the search process. He believes representatives from both his union and the Ethical Society should sit on the search committee.
Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police (which represents about 200 majority-black city officers,) said they are working to set up a community forum in the next couple weeks. “We are trying to be transparent; that’s what we believe should happen,” Taylor said. “We support a national search.”
Taylor also hopes that a union representative is included in the decision-making process for police chief.
Bruce Franks Jr.
State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., a Ferguson activist who now represents the 78th House District, emphasized the importance of choosing the right Public Safety director – not just the chief.
“We have to have a Public Safety director who will hold the police chief accountable,” Franks said. “We haven’t had that.”