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Mary Barton Takes Reins Of St. Louis County Police Department

In an April 30, 2020 screenshot from YouTube, Col. Mary Barton's husband pins her new badge to her chest after she is officially promoted to chief of the St. Louis County Police Department.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Police Department officially has its first female chief in its 65-year history.

The Board of Police Commissioners on Thursday formally promoted Col. Mary Barton to the position. She replaces Jon Belmar, who retired after 34 years with the department, the last six and a half as chief.

“This is a wonderful police department,” Barton told the board and others in attendance. “Whoever is the leader here is reflective of the officers here. We have fine people who work here, both officers and staff, and I consider it a privilege to become the ninth chief.”

Barton, 62, has worked in every precinct but one during a more than 40-year career with the department. She was also a longtime member of the Major Case Squad, which investigates homicides in the St. Louis region that local departments do not have the resources to handle. 

Before awarding Barton her new badge, members of the board praised Belmar.

“I always judge good leaders by the harder times,” said Mark Gaertner, who is the longest-serving member of the commission. “The hard times the department’s had, you’ve taken over, you've brought it to the next level. You’ve taught me many things, and more importantly, we’ve become close friends.”

Dr. Laurie Punch, a trauma surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, praised Belmar’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I, as a medical professional and a concerned St. Louis County citizen, have been just completely amazed and honored to see the approach that the department has taken in collaborating with other county organizations to make sure the department and its members as well as the public are safe,” Punch said. “It is astonishing the level of work that has been done.”

Michelle Schwerin, an attorney who is one of the newer board members, thanked Belmar for showing her and the three other new commissioners the ropes of the department and said she is looking forward to Barton’s tenure.

“Chief Barton, I’m very excited to work with you in the coming months and the coming years,” Schwerin said. “The board is very energized to work with you to maintain the quality that our department exhibits today and to institute new initiatives to move us forward.”

Promotion ceremonies are usually packed affairs, with hundreds of officers, friends, family members and media present.

But restrictions on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic limited who was able to attend. Nevertheless, three former chiefs were there, as were members of the St. Louis County Council, including Ernie Trakas, a Republican from south St. Louis County.

“Chief Barton, you’ve got big shoes to fill,” Trakas said. “Chief Belmar led this department in an exemplary way, in the face of incredibly difficult challenges. I’ll be praying for you that you can do the same. Godspeed as you take over this department.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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