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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Kicks Off Search For New Police Chief With Public Input

St. Louis County Police Board members Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin
File photo I Julie O'Donoghue I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Police Board members Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin will help pick the county's next police chief.

At a meeting in Florissant to get public comment on selecting a new St. Louis County police chief, residents said they want a leader with integrity and the ability to communicate effectively with people from different communities. 

Several people who attended the meeting Wednesday also said the county’s new chief should come from within the department’s ranks.

“We need someone who has strong relationships with the community and is ready to lead on day one,” said Terry Wilson, a councilman and school board member in Jennings. 

The county Board of Police Commissioners held the first of three public meetings on the search for a new police chief. There will also be sessions in south and west St. Louis County over the next few weeks. 

Chief Jon Belmar announced last week that he would retire at the end of April. He led the region’s largest law enforcement agency for six years, including during the protests in Ferguson that followed the shooting of Michael Brown. 

County leaders had made it clear in recent months that they were interested in change at the police department. County Executive Sam Page replaced four of the five members of the police board, which has the power to hire and fire the police chief. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, who is now chairwoman of the council, said last year that she would like to see Belmar retire. 

The newer members of the police board don’t have the strong ties to the law enforcement community that the previous members did. The board hasn’t decided whether it will conduct a national search for a candidate or look at people internally for the job. 

But some of the approximately 50 people who attended the meeting Wednesday already have a particular person in mind for the job — County Police Lt. Col. Troy Doyle. If Doyle got the job, he would be the department’s first African American police chief.

The police board discouraged speakers at the meeting from identifying specific candidates for chief, but a handful of the people who spoke alluded to Doyle in their comments anyway. They confirmed in interviews with a reporter afterward that they were advocating for Doyle.

Doyle, who has been with the force for 28 years, is currently the commanding officer of operational support for the department, overseeing the police academy, dispatch services and the emergency center, among other things. He served as interim director of the county jail last year after three deaths at the facility alarmed Page and the county council. He also worked as interim police chief in Jennings when it was dealing with internal scandal. 

“He gets a lot done with very few words. He’s not looking to draw attention to himself,” said Steve Pokorny, a business owner in Jennings who attended the meeting. “Honestly, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Troy Doyle.”

This week, a group of local elected officials and civic leaders started to circulate a letter in support of Doyle. Among the people to sign it is former county Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who now oversees the Page administration’s diversity and inclusion initiatives for the county. 

Shanette Hall, a county police officer, told the police board that a lieutenant colonel, whom she didn’t name directly, stuck up for her when she, as an African American woman, wasn’t being supported by the rest of her unit. She said the senior officer, whom she later identified as Doyle in an interview, went out of his way to intervene on her behalf. It’s one of the reasons she has decided to continue working in St. Louis County, she said.

“He is someone we all look up to in our department,” she said. 

Police Board Chairman Ray Price declined to say whether anyone had talked to him about picking Doyle.

“So far I’ve tried to avoid focusing on candidates,” he said after the meeting. 

Doyle mingled with the crowd Wednesday. He declined to comment on whether he was interested in the job until the police board sets the parameters for the hiring process.

“When they announce the process, I guess we will go from there,” Doyle said. “When I joined the county police department, I never ever thought of being chief of police.” 

Doyle plans to attend the remaining two police board public meetings on the chief search.

Belmar, who makes $160,000 annually, will head the department until April 30. He had been criticized for his response to the Ferguson protests, and also more recently after a multimillion-dollar workplace discrimination verdict was awarded to a county officer. Keith Wildhaber, who was promoted to lieutenant after the verdict, said he had been passed over for promotion dozens of times because he is gay. 

The county announced it had agreed to pay Wildhaber $10.25 million to settle his discrimination lawsuit a few hours after Belmar went public with his retirement plans. But county officials have said Belmar wasn’t forced out of his job. 

Follow Julie on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

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