Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.
ST. LOUIS — It’s been almost a year since St. Louis’ Chief of Police announced he was retiring, and now the deadline to apply to replace him has been extended and the man in charge of the process is within weeks of departing the city himself.
The posting originally listed the application deadline at July 31. Now, applicants have until Aug. 15 to submit their qualifications to the Boulware Group, a private company conducting the nationwide search alongside the city’s Personnel Division.
Mayor Tishaura Jones’ office referred questions about the extension to the city’s Interim Personnel Director John Moten.
He sent a statement late Friday afternoon, which read: "To date, the Department of Personnel has received a total of 34 applications for the Police Commissioner position. The application deadline was extended to allow more candidates to apply."
He did not say how many of the applications came from external or internal candidates.
Moten’s term as Interim Director is set to expire in September.
The quest to fill the city’s top cop position has taken a wandering path since John Hayden first announced he was retiring in September 2021.
He said he planned to leave the force at the end of February after a 35-year career.
The city’s Personnel Division then launched a nationwide search for his replacement.
In St. Louis, the personnel director determines the qualifications for police chief and conducts the search. The Personnel Director is appointed by a mayor, but does not serve at the pleasure of any mayor to prevent patronage.
The Personnel Division sends a list of six finalists to the Director of Public Safety, who then chooses the winner.
That first list generated at the end of 2021 included four external candidates and two internal candidates, Lt. Col. Michael Sack and Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole. They were the only candidates to show up for the written portion of the test, so they were the only ones to advance to the mayor’s office for consideration.
Sack and O’Toole are white men. Jones said she didn’t believe they reflected the diversity of the department and said the process wasn’t transparent enough to the public.
She called for a re-do.
The city’s personnel director then retired, and Jones appointed Moten to serve as the Interim for six months. His official term began March 1.
Jones announced the Regional Business Council would be paying a consulting firm, the Boulware Group, between $50,000 and $60,000 to conduct a national search for the position.
And Moten changed the requirements for the job. Instead of requiring candidates to have experience at the rank of captain or higher for at least 10 years, applicants with at least five years of experience as a lieutenant or higher could apply.
Meanwhile, O’Toole settled a discrimination lawsuit with the city he filed in 2017 and retired, which left Sack as the only remaining finalist from the first search.
Hayden then agreed to remain on the force until June.
Jones appointed Sack to serve as the Interim chief and said it was possible he could become the city’s next chief.
I asked her what qualifications she was looking for that Sack didn’t already have. She said she didn’t want to comment on his qualifications.
“We want to make sure that we keep our promise to the community to be transparent and present all of the candidates for various town halls and neighborhood meetings,” she said during a press conference on May 18 to announce Sack’s temporary promotion.
I asked the mayor this week about the status of the search.
“I'm waiting for an update from the search firm for the search for police chief,” she said.
I’ll be sure to bring it to you when I hear more.