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Kenneth Gregory named St. Louis County Police Department’s first Black chief

Kenneth Gregory, acting St. Louis County police chief, addresses the media while flanked by representatives from various regional law enforcement agencies on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, during a press conference on the recent uptick in regional automobile-related crimes at the St. Louis County government building in Clayton.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Kenneth Gregory, photographed at a press conference in November, has been named chief of the St. Louis County Police Department.

For the first time in its 66-year history, the St. Louis County Police Department has a Black chief.

The county’s Board of Police Commissioners voted Tuesday to remove the acting chief title from Col. Kenneth Gregory. He had been serving as acting chief since Mary Barton retired from the department in July.

“I never would have thought that I’d be standing here as the chief of this police department,” Gregory said after his promotion was announced. “Forty-two years ago, no one would have given this department a look at to see that a man that looks like me would be the chief.”

Gregory has been with the department since December 1979. He spent most of his early career in north St. Louis County, including patrolling the cities of Kinloch and Wellston, which were at the time part of the West County Precinct. He later commanded the North Precinct, the Division of Special Operations and the Division of Patrol and served as acting commander of the Berkeley Police Department for two weeks in June 1998.

Gregory was elevated to acting chief to stabilize the department, said Brian Ashworth, a member of the police board.

“But the department has not only stabilized but grown in a positive direction under his command,” Ashworth said. “Thus the board determined it is in the best interests of the department, and the St. Louis community, to place Chief Gregory at the helm.”

At his regular media availability on Wednesday, County Executive Sam Page called Gregory’s promotion the right decision, and said he’ll be a good chief.

“He has a long track record of engaging the community and listening to the community,” Page said. “He’s been around a long time and has earned the respect of people in the department and in the community, and all those things are very important.”

In a statement, the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color, said it looks forward to working collaboratively with Gregory to “dismantle many of the practices and policies that have created barriers to employment for minorities as well as damaged relationships within marginalized communities.”

The department still faces several lawsuits by Black officers alleging racism and discrimination in promotions and transfers.

Joe Patterson, the executive director of the St. Louis County Police Officers Association, said in a statement that officers looked forward to working with Gregory as “we strive to make the St. Louis County Police Department the best place to work in law enforcement and an agency our community will always be proud of.”

Patterson added that although the union would have welcomed more transparency in the process, the commissioners had the sole authority to name a police chief. During the search for Gregory’s predecessor, the police board held comment meetings across the county.

In one of his first moves as chief, Gregory promoted Lt. Col. Brian Ludwig from acting deputy chief to deputy chief.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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