In a 20 minute interview, St. Louis County Police Chief reflected on the community support following the recent death of Officer Blake Snyder and the challenge of comforting Snyder’s family.
Holliday: What does the community support you just described mean to you and your officers?
Belmar: Mike Flamion was injured. The Hazelwood officer, and now with Blake, we’ve seen that support. I believe that support has always been there. It really buoys us emotionally, spiritually, we have to have that. We have to be able to understand that that support is out there, especially in times like this. Some people at times look at these officers and make an assumption that they’re robots. They're just like you and me. They go home to families, they have problems , they pay bills. At the same time they do a very difficult job.
Holliday: There are a number of plans related to the funeral and the services for Blake Snyder. What is your role, what are some of the things you're doing to prepare for that?
Belmar: One of my roles right now is to make sure that there's going to be a lot of officers at the funeral. We have to prepare to make sure we understand that everything keeps going. We're going to ride our precincts, our beats, how do we staff that? I have an outpouring of support from police departments throughout the region. I think my main role to be honest with you is to make sure that we're doing everything that we can as an executive staff to support our police officers over the next few days and more than anything else, that young family. That's really where I have emotionally been and mentally been since Thursday morning.
Holliday: I'm sure by now you've had face to face contact with the family I'm not sure how much you're comfortable sharing, but what are those interactions like and what do you try to say to comfort his family?
Belmar: I don't have the words and it kind of depends on who you're talking with. The young wife, that's tough man. You just want them to understand how much support there is out there. I want her to understand and I'll be able to talk to her in the future about the tremendous amount of regard I had for her husband. I want her to understand how much regard I have for her and her son because they are part of our family.
Holliday: Your job is already stressful on a normal day, there's nothing normal about what's taking place right now following the death of one of your officers. How are you doing and how are you taking care of yourself?
Belmar: I'm tired, that's how I'm doing. When I got the news Thursday afternoon that Blake had been shot that changed everything because I'm the face of this organization, there's a couple of different things I think about. I really have to be a friend to the family first, and the chief second, but I have to be a leader for this police department. But it's different as a chief because you feel that additional responsibility. If we do something great the chief gets applauded, when we do something bad the chief has to answer to that. All that pales in a line of duty death.
Holliday: Does the climate you described earlier, the death of a police officer, other incidents around the country, make it more difficult to recruit?
Belmar: We're going to work hard on recruiting. It's a problem on a good day to get sound applicants in. Please understand we're going to take, because of the background process, the best possible people that we can find and over the course of their career, expose them to the worst part of society. So we need good people to come in and take a look at this. They need to understand this is an outstanding profession to be involved in, but let's don’t kid
ourselves, it's dangerous every day.
Holliday: There are so many people on the street with guns. Some legally, some illegally. How does that make your job and your officers jobs more difficult? First of all the number of guns and then recognizing who should have them and who shouldn't have them, and all of these things have to happen in real time.
Belmar: They do and it's a headache is what it is. At times it can be tremendously dangerous. In the situation with Officer Snyder we've got an 18 year old with a handgun. That's not supposed to happen in the state of Missouri regardless of what our laws look like or don't look like, but that can't happen. In this particular case there was an individual who had no reluctance to murder a police officer upon approach of his car, so you're right. It's a difficult environment for officers to work in. That's fine, but how do we figure that out when we're on a street encounter?
Holliday: What has changed since the events in Ferguson two years ago?
Belmar: I've never seen law enforcement shine such a bright light on community engagement ever in my career, 30 years. I would argue we've always done it and done well, but I've never seen the emphasis we have, but it's very difficult when I think at times it is diluted with some of the rhetoric that's out there right now. So I know we've made good strides, positive strides on police and community relations because I see it every day. The issue right now is I think these officers feel like they are under a lot of weight to make sure they don't do anything wrong, that they have to be perfect. And when that happens, do they pull back? We can't afford as a society have these officers pull back.”