ST. LOUIS COUNTY ( -- Across the country, protesters have been voicing their problems with police tactics while advocating for the defunding of police departments.

Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council addressed those same topics in its first meeting with new Police Chief Mary Barton.

Councilman Tim Fitch, a former police chief himself, said he thought she did a good job answering the council's questions. Councilwoman Rochelle Gray said she's looking forward to more dialogue, but that the chief may not be able to be objective and said Barton got a lot of work to do to improve the police department's relationship in the minority community.

The Minneapolis City Council voted to defund its police department, but Barton said that's not how she believes problems will be solved.

"Defunding the police will have the hardest impact on those areas that need the police the most,” Barton said. “We would increase the victimization of the people that are least able to protect themselves.”

As a woman, Barton said she's suffered discrimination herself and is committed to inclusion and diversity. But she said she doesn’t think the department has a problem with institutional racism. Some on the council disagreed.

“We do have a problem,” said Councilwoman Rita Days. “We can address that problem if you engage all of us in the solution."

On questions about police tactics, Barton said the department has never authorized the use of chokeholds, and she said officers are trained to use the least amount of force necessary. 

Barton also said she believes the most significant improvement since the death of Michael Brown in 2014 is the increase in ways the department engages with the community. 

By the end of the two hour meeting, the council had held a frank discussion on race. Members spoke up about committing to tackle the problem. And the county council chair, Lisa Clancy, acknowledged that white people have a hard time seeing the problem.

"I want to say, as a white person, this is hard stuff to talk about because we are living in a system where all of us with white skin benefit every day,” she said.

Councilwoman Clancy said African-Americans have a much different experience in life and it's important to put that out there and acknowledge it.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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