The new chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will have a lot to deal with upon taking over, both within the department and in regaining community trust.
A crowd of about 30 people outlined their concerns regarding the search process at a meeting Thursday night held by the Ethical Society of Police, which represents officers of color. They also made it clear what they wanted from the new chief.
It’s the city’s first nationwide search for the top job, which came open when Sam Dotson retired April 19, and the public will have ample opportunities to weigh in, St. Louis’ personnel director Richard Frank told the audience at Vashon High School. The advisory committee, which was recently appointed by Mayor Lyda Krewson, will do everything from write the job qualifications to help with interviews. And that committee, he said, will hold plenty of public meetings, the first of which is at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Will the committee be able to write the new chief’s job performance review, an audience member asked? Yes, Frank responded, that’s something the city wants the public to weigh in on.
The search is designed to be apolitical, but some in the audience worried the panel is inherently political due to Krewson’s appointments. One of the panelists, activist John Chasnoff with the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, shared that skepticism.
“I think any system is going to be flawed, and this system is flawed. The way we make the best of it is by showing up and holding people accountable,” he said.
A number of audience members emphasized the need for the new chief to clearly understand community policing. That was a common criticism of Doston.
“It doesn’t start just with the officer, it starts with our senior leadership as well,” said Sgt. Charles Lowe, an 18-year veteran of the department. “It’s nice to have the officers that are working the beat, but it’s nice to start seeing the senior leadership respond to some of these activities as well.”
Lowe also urged whoever becomes the chief to look at the promotions process; the Ethical Society has long been concerned about the low number of black or other officers of color in the command staff or elite units like the SWAT team.
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