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South County Residents Want Search For New Police Chief To Stay Internal

The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners at a public comment session in south St. Louis County on Feb. 26, 2020.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners listened Wednesday as residents of South County told them what they would like to see in a new police chief.

The decision by the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners to keep the search for a new police chief within the department received support Wednesday night from residents of South County.

The board announced last weekthat officers at the rank of captain or higher — 23 in all — will be eligible for promotion to replace Chief Jon Belmar. He announced earlier this month that he will retire April 30 after more than six years as chief and 34 with the department.

Most of the seven chiefs before Belmar were internal candidates as well. Ronny Griffin, president of Laborers’ Local 110, saw no need to change that. 

“These cops that are here now, they know the community, they know the diversity in the community, they know the issues in the community, and they can better serve the community,” Griffin said.

State Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis, a longtime South County resident, agreed.

“Low crime rate, high property value. That’s why me and my wife chose when we got married in 1967 to live here,” he said. “If you’re going to pick a new chief, please pick one from the police department now. The continuity, the camaraderie to pull this off after you have a popular chief that is retiring.”

Unlike the firstmeeting to get public input, held in Hazelwood, where supporters of Lt. Col. Troy Doyle spoke, the dozen or so speakers at the Pavilion at Lemay did not appear to have a particular candidate in mind. Instead, they spoke in broad terms about the need for someone with integrity and loyalty to the community.

Internal candidates make sense for a big department like St. Louis County, said St. Louis University criminology professor Joseph Schafer.

“They typically are able to hit the ground running more quickly because they don't need to establish relationships and spend time learning about the organization, the community, the issues, the opportunities that are there,” he said. “The disadvantage is as people come up in a department, there tends to be homogenization of ideas and thoughts and innovations."

The St. Louis County Police Officers Association has backed the selection of an internal candidate. But the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color in the department, said it “supports the best candidate for the job being hired, whether internal or external. There are qualified candidates both internally and externally.” 

The board will hold a final listening session March 10 at Parkway North High School. Eligible officers who are interested in being chief must submit their applications by March 11.

Correction:  At least one of the department's eight chiefs came from outside the department. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report said all of them had been internal candidates.

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