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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton Retires

Col. Mary Barton, pictured May 1, 2020.
File photo I David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton worked in the department for 43 years.

St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton is retiring after more than four decades of service.

Barton announced her plans Friday during the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners meeting. Barton said in a statement that it's been a privilege to serve as chief for the past year.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for 43 wonderful years of service here at the department,” Barton said. “I wish the best to whoever follows in my footsteps and I will always wish the best for this police department.”

Michelle Schwerin, chairwoman of the Board of Police Commissioners, thanked Barton for her long service.

“Chief Barton’s dedication and commitment to the Department is illustrative of why the St. Louis County Police Department is one of the finest departments in the country,” Schwerin said.

Barton became the department’s first female chief last year and has been under fire from Black officers who have filed lawsuits.

The county will pay $290,000 to settle a discrimination complaint Barton filed last week with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Barton will receive $190,000, and her attorney will receive the remaining $100,000. The details of that complaint were not immediately available.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory, the highest-ranking Black officer in the department, will serve as acting chief effective immediately. Lt. Col. Bryan Ludwig will serve as acting deputy chief.

“I look forward to collaborating and working with [the police commission] to keep this department moving forward,” Gregory said. “Transition is tough, and it’s going to be my job to make the transition as peaceful and easy as possible.”

Barton’s resignation follows a series of controversies in the department, including lawsuits from at least four Black officers. The officers sued the department with accusations the department engaged in discrimination and retaliation in promotions and transfers. Barton was also criticized for saying there was no systemic racism in the department, a comment she later walked back.

Critics have said Barton and the department didn’t do enough to tackle its systemic racism. William Dailey Jr., an attorney for the Ethical Society of Police, noted that the county was quick to settle the lawsuit when other racial discrimination lawsuits are still pending.

“What’s the difference? Were the facts and allegations that much more convincing?” Dailey asked. “Were there political expediencies at play that said ‘Well, maybe we need to do this for the betterment of the county and to move us forward’?”

The organization also criticized Ludwig, saying that he is involved in a discrimination lawsuit. The St. Louis County Council voted no confidence in Barton’s abilities earlier this year.

“The culture of discrimination within the St. Louis County Police Department extends beyond Chief Barton,” a spokesperson from the Ethical Society of Police said in a statement. “A thorough process for selecting the next Chief, including input by organizations such as the Ethical Society of Police, is critical to ensure new leadership is ready on day one to address complex issues, including racism, that are pervasive in the Department.”

Many officers did not expect Barton to serve a long tenure as chief, but her departure was nevertheless a surprise, said Joe Patterson, executive director of the St. Louis County Police Officers Association.

“We did bring a lot of concerns up with Chief Barton during her last few months,” Patterson said. “We did discover that there were some major problems internally within the department. And I do want to give her some credit, after we brought those to her attention, she did take time to work with us to address some of those issues.”

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page in a statement thanked Barton for her service. He said the police commission is committed to finding the next director.

“The Police Board will find a new chief committed to the reforms necessary to protect public safety, bridge the racial divides within the department and in our community and engage collaboratively with the Police Board, the County Council, community members and other regional partners,” Page said.

Correction: Bryan Ludwig is involved a discrimination lawsuit. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report identified the wrong officer involved in the lawsuit.

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