St. Louis police organizations, community react ahead of town hall for next chief

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:09 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The search for St. Louis City’s top cop is leaving both city residents and members of local police organizations stunned with questions 24 hours since four finalists were announced for the position.

“We’re in the same position as everybody else. We’re finding out on the fly,” said Joe Steiger, Business Manager for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association. “I think they would’ve liked to see a little bit more transparency in the actual process, but I think there’s also some relief that this is finally coming to an end, and they’ll be some stability in the chief’s office.”

While city leaders have stressed the importance of making the selection of the next chief of police transparent, Donny Walters, the President of the Ethical Society of Police, tells News 4 he and other residents do not feel like this has been the case.

“From what I’ve gotten in the last 24 hours from the citizens texting me, emailing me, and even phone calls inquiring about the process, how does the process work, how did they choose these individuals, how did three outsiders outdo four inside candidates,” said Walters. “From my understanding, what I’ve been told, we had three majors and our lieutenant colonel who were all part of the process.”

Only the Interim Chief of Police, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sack, was selected from within the department as a final candidate. The other three candidates, Chief Larry Boone, Chief Robert Tracy, and Deputy Chief Melron Kelly are all from outside of the state. News 4 also learned Boone is also being considered a finalist for police chief in Cincinnati.

Tonight’s town hall at Vashon High School will be the first time residents hear from these candidates.

“Are you vested into the cities that you’re going to go work at, or is it just, ‘Hey is this an opportunity to be a chief in another city, let me see how this works,’” said Walters. “We often post all our positives on a professional resume, so it’s really incumbent upon the background check. I find it with 24 hours kind of hard to reach out to the community.”

The city’s personnel department tells News 4 there were a total of 42 applicants for the city’s chief of police, which they and a search firm narrowed down to six before the public safety department selected the remaining four finalists. The Director of Personnel could not comment on how many of those 42 applicants were external versus internal and how many were women.

Steiger says there may be some positives to having an external candidate as Chief of Police, but he is waiting to see what each of the finalists have to say at tonight’s town hall before he considers any endorsement one way or another.

“The external candidates maybe just bring a new perspective and a fresh set of eyes, but when you look at internal candidates, I mean they do have that institutional knowledge of the police department,” said Stieger. “They understand city politics, the dynamics of the city, so we’ll see how it works out.”

Adolphus Pruitt, who is the President of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP does not think tonight’s town hall will carry weight on the city’s final decision on their choice for chief, but he hopes the next leader will step into the role with a commitment to improving community relations.

“Police and community relations have to improve in a significant way in the city of St. Louis if we’re going to see any real drop in crime and other things that impact the city,” said Pruitt.

Residents and local police organizations are also looking to see how the next police chief will tackle violent crime and improve recruitment and retention within the police department.

“I think the most important question that our members have is what this new chief will do for the moral of the police officers. We’re extremely short-handed, and it’s not just the police. It’s the support staff. They’re extremely shorthanded, and a lot of that boils down to pay,” said Stieger. “They’re so underpaid, they’re underpaid throughout the entire region, and it’s going to be a big challenge for this new chief to try and figure out a way. We have a real recruitment and retention problem in the city police department.”

Walter says the next chief also must be fair and invested in the community he plans to serve.

“It is about being fair not only to our officers on the street but to our citizens,” said Walters. “Giving investment, that’s another thing, investing in our community, as well as investing in our police department. It’s kind of hard to invest in something when you have no ties. A lot of people have said what they wanted to say about internal candidates, but internal candidates are invested. They’ve been here.”