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Outside firm to help with national search for new St. Louis police chief

Mayor Tishaura Jones and interim police chief John Hayden listen in
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones and Police Chief John Hayden listen Wednesday to Lt. Col. Michael Sack, who will take over as interim chief of the department when Hayden retires in June. The city will use a national firm to find Hayden's replacement.

St. Louis will use an outside firm to help hire its next police chief.

Mayor Tishaura Jones and interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom announced Wednesday that the city’s personnel department had entered into an agreement with the Boulware Group to conduct a national search, with assistance from the Center for Policing Equity. The Regional Business Council is covering the cost.

“We want to keep the public informed around the next steps of the search, and ensure St. Louisans we have a plan as we move forward in the next phase,” Isom said.

Jones said the previous search had “issues.”

“We didn’t cast the net wide enough, in my opinion,” she said. “And we want to make sure that we keep our promise to the community in being transparent with the next search.”

Jones said contracting with the Boulware Group, which has helped hire police chiefs in cities such as Detroit and Charlotte, North Carolina, will help ensure the community has a say in the process.

Chief John Hayden, who had planned to retire in February but delayed his departure to help with the transition, will now leave June 18. Lt. Col. Michael Sack, currently the commander of the Bureau of Community Policing, will take over as interim chief on that date.

Jones said she was looking forward to working with Sack in that new role.

“I’ve had a chance to speak to him, and we share a lot of the same beliefs,” she said.

Sack said he appreciated the confidence the mayor and Isom had shown in promoting him to interim chief.

“Everything that I wanted to do at work is focused on creating positive change,” he said. “I’ve learned quite a bit from the chief, as well as from others, throughout my career, and I’m confident that I will be able to carry out these responsibilities without any issue.”

Sack was a finalist in the initial search for Hayden’s replacement, and Jones did not rule out putting in the job permanently.

“But we want to make sure that we keep a promise to the community to be transparent and present all of the candidates for various town halls,” she said.

5 On Your Sidereported Monday that the second finalist, Lt. Col. Larry O’Toole, will retire from the department May 21 as part of a settlement in a discrimination case he filed in 2017, when he was passed over for chief in favor of Hayden.

In a statement, the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color in the department, called Sack’s policing career “commendable.”

“We support Interim Chief Sack yet we will hold him accountable for our community and our officers during his time as Interim Chief as we've held Chief Hayden and previous chiefs accountable,” the organization said.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association did not immediately have any comment.

Sack graduated from the police academy in 1994. In addition to leading the patrol bureau, he commanded Central Patrol, the Bureau of Professional Standards and the Bureau of Crimes Against Persons, which includes the homicide unit.

Sack was the head of the Bureau of Professional Standards in 2018 when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the existence of a so-called “exclusion list,” consisting of officers who would not be allowed to bring cases to Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Sack reportedly helped Gardner develop the list, an allegation he and Hayden denied.

Hayden on Wednesday called being chief of the department “an honor of a lifetime.”

“I love this city, I’ll always be here, and I’m looking forward to watch Lt. Col. Sack fill the role,” he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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