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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Council Votes No Confidence In Police Chief

Col. Mary Barton, pictured May 1, 2020.
File photo / David Kovaluk
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St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis County Council has become the latest group to express a lack of confidence in Police Chief Mary Barton, shown in May 2020.

The St. Louis County Council says it has no confidence in Police Chief Mary Barton.

Members of the council voted 4-3 along party lines Tuesday night to adopt a resolution that read in part, “Chief Barton is incapable of guiding the St. Louis County Police Department in the right direction, and therefore the faith and trust bestowed onto her is unrecoverable.”

In taking the vote, the council joined the Ethical Society of Police and other police reform advocacy organizations in asking for new leadership so the department can address its racism issues.

The St. Louis County Police Officers Association said in a statement that it shares many of the same concerns as the Ethical Society and the county council. The union is currently asking its 950 members how to respond. That could include an official vote of no confidence.

Tuesday’s vote was entirely symbolic, as the county council has no direct oversight of Barton or the department. But Council Chairwoman Rita Days, D-Bel-Nor, said it was meant to send a signal to the Board of Police Commissioners that it needs to provide Barton with the necessary support and oversight.

“Harry Truman said the buck stops here. And it’s at the head,” Days said. “We have to make sure that that head has what the head needs to be successful. That’s not happening here at this point.”

The vice chair of the police board, Michelle Schwerin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She has been leading board meetings since the resignation of its chair, Ray Price.

Councilman Tim Fitch, a former colleague of Barton’s, acknowledged the department has a long history of racism, including when he was chief.

“But having attacks on a brand-new police chief with a steep learning curve? I don’t think that’s the way to go,” said Fitch, a Republican.

Barton was named the department’s first female chief almost a year ago.

At least four Black officers have sued the department, accusing it of discrimination and retaliation in promotions and transfers. Last year, Barton was criticized for saying there was no systemic racism in the department, a comment she later walked back.

She said that personnel decisions are made based on the skills of officers, and that she will continue to serve as chief.

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