Updated 2:15 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13
St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch has been using his blog to make blockbuster declarations lately, but perhaps none was as stunning as Friday’s post in which he announced his retirement as of February.
Fitch, who has been chief since 2009 and with the department more than 30 years, wrote that he had notified the county’s Board of Police Commissioners of his decision. The board has been without a quorum until last Tuesday, when the County Council approved one of County Executive Charlie Dooley’s two nominees.
Fitch didn't explain his pending retirement, other than to write that it was best to leave a job "when you still love what you are doing."
Fitch said in an interview Friday afternoon that he had been planning for more than a year to retire and set up a consulting business that would advise corporations and various law-enforcement groups.
Fitch said that he had hit the maximum for his pension benefits, and had been contemplating for some time what his next career move would be. He said his timing in February was tied with some consulting opportunities.
"If this business opportunity had not come along,'' he said he would have stayed in his job. Fitch said he had delayed any announcement until the Police Board had enough members to hire his successor. The five-person board has been short for months.
With Tuesday's action, it now has three members -- the minimum needed to make official decisions. Fitch said he decided then that it was time to announce his decision.
Fitch said he had unsuccessfully tried to contact Dooley before posting his blog, but had been able to get ahold of county chief operating officer Garry Earls.
Dooley issued a statement Friday afternoon, "I congratulate Chief Fitch on his retirement and wish him the best in his future endeavors...Chief Fitch dedicated his life to the St. Louis County Police Department and we certainly owe him a debt of gratitude for building one of the best most honored police departments in the country."
Dooley then cited the various achievements under Fitch's watch, including the department's honor in 2010 as the first department in the state "to receive the prestigious Tri-Arc Award from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA®) for accreditations in Law Enforcement, Public Safety Communications and Public Service Training Academy. We are one of only six in the world with this distinction."
Such words aside, Fitch and Dooley have had a strained relationship for some time, particularly since Fitch asked the FBI a few months ago to investigate a crime lab contract that appeared to have ties to then-police board chairman Gregory Sansone.
Dooley said that he should have been informed first. Fitch also requested FBI involvement in the investigation to determine how much county money a top county Health Department official may have embezzled. The employee committed suicide.
Fitch's February departure coincides with the start of Missouri's candidate-filing for state, legislative and local offices. Dooley already has a Democratic challenger, County Councilman Steve Stenger of Affton, but so far no high-profile Republican has followed suit.
Fitch has been high on some private GOP lists of sought-after contenders. But Fitch said Friday that he has "zero'' interest in ever running for office. "Absolutely not,'' he added.
Fitch's decision came as no surprise to St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who had breakfast with Fitch a few weeks ago. “He said he had offers. Apparently one came through,’’ Dotson said, while emphasizing that Fitch had not talked specifically about retiring.
Dotson added that it wasn't unusual for senior police officials to talk about job opportunities. "When you get a certain age, you max out your time, you max out your benefits,'' the St. Louis chief said.
Dotson said that he and Fitch "talk very frequently. We have a great working relationship."
Fitch, like Dotson, has embraced social media. Fitch previously used his blog – Chief’s Chat -- to praise the archdiocese for banning alcohol at social events and to air his ire at hidden speeding cameras that some small communities have installed. But until Friday, his most-read post was likely in August, when Fitch accused unnamed “political researchers” of digging up dirt about him and his department.
Here’s today’s blog post:
After having the privilege of serving the citizens of St. Louis County for more than 30 years, I have notified the Board of Police Commissioners of my intent to retire in February 2014. It’s been said that the best time to leave is when you still love what you are doing. That’s how I can describe my entire career. Retiring from this position was not an easy decision. However, I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to start my own public safety consulting group. My family and I are looking forward to the next part of our lives in the world of private business.I truly believe that the men and women serving at the St. Louis County Police Department are the best in the nation. Due to their hard work, crime in the past five years is at historical lows. It has been an honor to work side-by-side with these professionals since 1983 and to have served as their Chief since 2009. We have worked hard to internally develop many well-qualified commanders that can easily take the helm of this proud agency. Finally, I want to personally thank the Board of Police Commissioners, County Executive, County Council and the people of St. Louis County for allowing me to serve for so many years.