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Isom steps down, Deputy Fire Chief Coyle to lead St. Louis Public Safety on interim basis

Charles Edward Coyle Sr., newly-appointed interim Director of the St. Louis Department of Public Safety, addresses the media on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at City Hall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Deputy Fire Chief Charles Coyle addresses the media Tuesday after being announced as St. Louis' interim director of public safety starting Feb. 12. Dan Isom, rear, is leaving the post and returning to the private sector.

The City of St. Louis is looking for new top leadership in its Public Safety Department.

Mayor Tishaura Jones announced Tuesday that interim Director Dan Isom will step down from that role Feb. 11. Deputy Fire Chief Charles Coyle will take over the interim position while the city conducts a national search for a permanent director.

“Dr. Isom was more than just a leader in our community. I also count him as a friend,” Jones said. “While we still have a lot of work to do, I can honestly say that he left the department a lot better than he found it.”

Isom, who served as police chief from 2008 to 2013, will join Ameren as vice president of corporate safety, security and crisis management on Feb. 13. He was the chief executive of REJIS, a criminal justice data company, when Jones tapped him to serve as interim director after she was elected in 2021.

“It was an honor to come back to serve the City of St. Louis after serving as the police chief,” Isom said. “So many of the challenges we faced are rooted in decadeslong practices. But we are working to change that.”

Isom and Jones touted as accomplishments the closure of the medium-security jail known as the Workhouse, security upgrades to the Criminal Justice Center in downtown, and efforts to combine all of the city's 911 systems in a central location known as a public safety answering point.

Isom also helped lead the search for a new chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which led to the recent selection of Robert Tracy, the first leader from outside the department in its history. And Isom helped Jones open a new Office of Violence Prevention.

Dr. Dan Isom, interim Director of the St. Louis Department of Public Safety, announces he is stepping down on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at City Hall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Dan Isom, interim director of the St. Louis Department of Public Safety, announces he is stepping down on Tuesday at City Hall.

Replacing Isom

Once Isom departs next month, Coyle will take over on an interim basis. He has been a firefighter since 1978 and was promoted to deputy chief in 2001. He’s currently the city’s fire marshal.

Coyle said he had made community outreach a priority, pointing to health fairs and neighborhood meetings he instituted. He called it a high honor to be tapped for the interim job.

“I believe in this mayor. I believe in her vision and the goals that she has set for our city,” he said. “I believe that it is my mission with public safety, to help carry out those goals.”

In addition to the police and fire departments, the director of public safety oversees the corrections, excise, building, neighborhood stabilization and emergency management divisions, as well as the new Office of Violence Prevention. Coyle admitted that he’ll have a lot to learn.

“There’s a good team around me,” he said. “I have never backed down from a challenge in my career, and if you've been around for a while, you know that I've been steadfast in my integrity and my character, I intend to carry that wherever I go.”

In 2009, Coyle filed a racial discrimination lawsuit alleging the city did not follow its own policies when it promoted current Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson to the position in 2007. It was part of a series of events that led to the demotion of Sherman George, who was the city’s first Black fire chief. George eventually filed his own discrimination lawsuit, but the case never went to court.

A jury awarded Coyle $350,000 in damages. He later received an additional $208,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs, as well as the difference in salary he would have made had he been promoted to chief rather than Jenkerson.

"That was in the past, and I'm no longer living in the past,” Coyle said of the suit. “My focus is looking forward and being a part of any changes that need to take place in public safety and in the city.”

Coyle makes $150,999 a year as one of the fire department’s four deputy chiefs. As interim public safety director, his saslary will be $206,000, the same as Isom's.

Jones expects the search to replace Isom to take about three to six months. Because it is a director position, the selection is solely up to her. The mayor said she had not decided whether to solicit public input.

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