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St. Louis County police chief defends officers’ work on MetroLink trains

St. Louis County police Chief Jon Belmar on July 24, 2017.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar discusses the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stories about MetroLink policing.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. July 25 with County Council expected to consider a related resolution — St. Louis County’s police chief disputed allegations Monday that his officers aren’t working hard enough to keep MetroLink trains safe.

Chief Jon Belmar agreed that two St. Louis Post-Dispatch stories showing St. Louis County officers repeatedly covering up cameras in a room at the North Hanley station, and appearing to lie about being on patrol on the platforms don’t make his department look good. But he questioned why he learned about the problems from the newspaper rather than the Bi-State Development Agency, which runs the mass transit system.

“I met with Rich Zott, [Bi-State’s] director of public safety 15 days ago,” Belmar said. “We talked about problems on Metro. Rich Zott never mentioned this to me once. Now we’re talking about communicating with each other and making ridership safer? Apparently, they would prefer to do gotchas than concentrate on how we can work together to make our ridership safer.”

Zott said he did not feel comfortable bringing the issues up in a large meeting, and that Belmar rejected several attempts to meet in private. He also said he was surprised by the allegations raised in the report, adding that the St. Louis County police could be doing more to help keep riders safe.

“I think the key to preventing crime is to be visible, and you can’t do that one hour a day or two hours a day,” Zott said. “You have to be out there all the time.

Belmar said his officers monitor security cameras from those rooms. He did not deny that the officers covered the camera in the North Hanley station, saying they often used the room to change clothes, or for briefings before they went out on patrol.

The St. Louis County Council is expected to consider during its Tuesday meeting calling for an investigation into whether any laws were broken.

Under an agreement signed in May, a St. Louis County police captain is in charge of public safety on MetroLink. That same agreement also tried to give officers from the three departments that patrol the system — St. Louis, St. Louis County, and St. Clair County sheriffs — the authority to make arrests anywhere. Under the nonbinding deal, MetroLink security officers are mainly in charge of fare enforcement.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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