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St. Louis area police unions question transparency in search for new chiefs

A collage of St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton (at left) and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden.
David Kovaluk, Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis and St. Louis County are seeking new leaders for their respective police departments. Mary Barton (left), photographed in 2020, retired as the county's police chief in July, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden, shown in 2017, has announced he will leave the post later this year.

Two of the biggest police departments in Missouri — St. Louis' and St. Louis County's — are searching for new leadership, and so far there is concern among the ranks about the lack of information about the process.

St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton retired at the end of July. Barely a month later, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden announced he would step down in February, although his departure has been delayed until a new chief is selected.

“The biggest concern is just being transparent,” said Sgt. Donnell Walters, president of the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color in both departments. “The citizens of St. Louis deserve to be aware of the process from beginning to end.”

In St. Louis County, the Board of Police Commissioners establishes the search process, including what ranks will be eligible for promotion and whether there will be any public input. The lack of information about how it will occur is allowing the rumor mill to spin, said Joe Patterson, executive director of the St. Louis County Police Officers Association, but he added that the rank and file have confidence in the board.

“They are a true civilian review board and civilian oversight that will be able to select a new chief of police, whoever he or she may be,” he said. “And although we’re not getting a ton of information, we do trust what they’re doing.”

St. Louis’ Civil Service Commission will help select Hayden’s replacement, following the city rules for eligibility and testing. But earlier this month, Mayor Tishaura Jones said she was dissatisfied with the candidates presented to interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom and pushed for the commission to restart the process.

Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, blasted the mayor’s interference, calling the search process “chaos.”

“Everyone’s been expecting and kind of hoping for change,” he said. He said officers reacted “terribly” to the news that Hayden planned to delay his retirement to allow Jones to “interfere politically with the process more.”

Jones does not have the authority to unilaterally restart the search. She said in a statement issued last week that she hoped for “a fair and transparent application process to select the most qualified candidates.”

Members of the Civil Service Commission did not respond to requests for comment.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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