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Jon Belmar Named Eighth Chief Of St. Louis County Police

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon)
New County police chief Jon Belmar (center) after the announcement of his promotion on Jan 31, 2014.

Updated with additional quotes from Chief Belmar.

A 27-year veteran of the St. Louis County police has been selected as the department's eighth chief.

"I am pleased to announce the selection of Lt. Col. Jon Belmar as the new chief of the St. Louis County police," police board chairman Roland Corvington announced this morning, after about an hour of closed-door deliberation.

Belmar, 50, started his career in the Affton Southwest precinct, which he would later command. He also led the Bureau of Tactical Support, the Bureau of Crimes Against Persons, and the bomb and arson squad, and was, until today, the commanding officer of the Division of Special Operations.

Belmar says his experience in the precincts gives him an advantage on the job. In Affton Southwest, he said, he oversaw a large unincorporated area with a mix of commercial and residential areas. In addition, the county provided contract services for four South County municipalities,

"There's nothing like it as far as understanding how to deliver police services," he said. "The chief has to have that relationship with the captain so the captain to have everything he needs to support the contracts, but at the same time, that captain has to have everything he needs to support our unincorporated areas because they're just as important."

Belmar added that his time in Affton had taught him the most important lesson of policing – it’s all about customer service.

"You have the have the ability to deliver services," he said. "Homicide detectives, SWAT team, helicopters, record room clerks, none of that stuff matters unless we’re able to deliver the response to emergency services, and figure out a way to reduce crime in St. Louis County."

Belmar takes over for Chief Tim Fitch, who retires Saturday, after five years on the job.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon on Thursday, Fitch warned his successor to be aware of, but not involved in, politics – something Belmar says won’t be a problem.

"I’ve been around a long time,” he said. “I don’t come in here with any biases, nor should I. The police department has to have the ability to cooperate fully with the administration of county government, and we will do that."

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, county executive Charlie Dooley said he looked forward to working with Belmar, who was chosen over two other candidates.

On what he’ll say first to his officers: 

“I’m going to talk to them about expectations. I’m going to talk to them about leadership. I truly believe that informal leadership is one of the most important thing in a police department or any organization. You don’t have to have stripes on your sleeves or bars on your collar to be a leader, and if we can have leaders from the ranks of our patrolmen and detectives up , we will make a continual difference in protecting the people of St. Louis County."

On his relationship with St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson:

I’ve probably known Chief Dotson longer than Chief Fitch has. When I was a young lieutenant in crimes against persons, I had a lot of contact with city officers. Dotson is a great guy, I worked with him during our last blizzard. He’s a gentleman. I have a feeling he’s going to be a very good source of counsel for me, and I will rely on that counsel. Chief Dotson called Chief Fitch a mentor, and I would expect to use Chief Dotson in that way as I transition to this new responsibility."

On city/county cooperation:

We've been doing it for 28 years and we act like it’s brand new. I went to the police academy as a county recruit 28 years ago.  And guess where it was located? In the city. We merged our helicopter units with St. Louis city and St. Charles 10 years ago, and it’s a model for collaboration among police departments. Our tactical operations unit has supported the city since I’ve been here.

I’m happy to look at further cooperation, including cross-deputization. If it potentially saves a life or solves a crime, we’re going to explore it seriously.

On using social media:

(Chief Fitch had both a blog and a Twitter feed that he updated regularly)

I’m not on Twitter yet. I’ll admit to being a little bit of a dinosaur when it comes to that stuff. It will be a learning curve. This is 2014. People communicate like that, they expect to get information that way.

“I called my wife right before I came out here. I’d perhaps been promoted for seven minutes at that point. She answered the phone. She chuckled. She said, ‘I already know, I saw it on Facebook.’” 

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.