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Byers' Beat: What St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy prioritized in his first week

Chief Robert Tracy's every move is being scrutinized by a department that sees him as a stranger.

ST. LOUIS — 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 — The way a new police chief spends his or her first few days on the job are some of the most important moments of their career.

Their every move is scrutinized by commanders and rank-and-file alike.

How they spend their time during their first days on the job says something about how they plan to run their administration at a time when everyone now under them is trying to gauge what’s going to come next.

Their moves set the tone for what’s to come.

Never in the more than 150-year history of the St. Louis police department were those first few days more closely watched than this week, as the department’s first-ever chief from outside the ranks took the reins.

Until now, the face at the top was a familiar one. Their allegiances, beliefs and administrative style were already known to many in the department as they settled into a seat at the top of an agency they’ve worked for oftentimes for decades.

Now, Robert Tracy who earned his stripes at departments including New York and Chicago and most recently at the helm of the Wilmington, Deleware department, is sitting in that seat.

And none of the 1,000 or so officers who are about to work for him really knows much about him.

So, I asked for his calendar to see how he spent his first week on the job here in St. Louis.

The mayor’s office didn’t give me a specific list of the order in which he met with these groups, or how long each appointment lasted, but rather a list of those with whom he met.

His first-impression making actually began in December, when Mayor Tishaura Jones publicly announced his hiring.

Those stops included tours of the area police stations as well as meetings with faith leaders, commanders, police union leaders, Ethical Society of Police leaders, Greater St. Louis, Inc. CEO Jason Hall, Regional Business Council Executive Director Kathy Osborn, Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah, Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Megan Green and the St. Louis Police Foundation.

The St. Louis Police Foundation was once again on his agenda for his first official week in office.

It’s a nonprofit group of business leaders who raise money to pay for various pieces of equipment and other improvements to St. Louis and St. Louis County police departments. The organization has raised millions to pay for improvements to the police canine unit, area stations and tactical gear to name a few.

The group also kicked in an additional $100,000 to the $175,000 the city is paying toward Tracy’s salary.

It’s made him one of the highest-paid chiefs in the region – and put the city’s chief well above the county chief’s salary ($155,394), another first.

Tracy also met this week with the most recent class of recruits, had internal briefings on department policies and procedures as well as attended the public safety briefing with the mayor and other leaders from the Department of Public Safety.

He also had to cover the basics, including getting fitted for his new uniform.

There, he saw what’s become known around the department as Mt. Exodus. It’s a pile of police uniforms turned in by officers leaving the department. So many were gathered in the uniform division, that it blocked some doorways and was about 14 feet by 20 feet wide.

In addition to where he spends his time, his decisions on personnel are also greatly anticipated.

Coming from the outside, he has no buddies he’s promised to promote or comrades he’s risen through the ranks with to bring along with him from within.

One of those key positions is his number two – more formally known as his deputy chief.

Tracy has not yet named his second-in-command, who runs the show in his absence.

One personnel decision has already been made for him.

The Department of Public Safety has appointed Monte Chambers as his chief of staff. Chambers is a former EMT for the St. Louis Fire Department and a former police officer for both St. Louis City and County. The mayor’s office announced his hiring in August and as a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

It's another first for the police chief position in the city.

There’s never been a chief of staff in the chief’s office, so it will be interesting to see whether it helps the department.

He also had his 59th birthday Thursday – but it doesn't seem like making time to celebrate was among the moves he made this week.

Tracy ended his first week with a trip to the Board of Alderman meeting Friday, as well as a Public Safety meeting with the mayor.

Just before that Board of Aldermen meeting, there was an officer-involved shooting in downtown St. Louis.

One cannot plan for these types of things, of course. 

So it wouldn't be on the chief's calendar.

A woman reportedly threatened to shoot up a Social Security office and then fired at responding officers when they tried to talk to her inside her van. Thankfully, no one was struck by gunfire.

A Force Investigation Unit commander briefed reporters at the scene about what happened.  

Tracy did not, as most chiefs customarily have done whenever an officer fires a gun at a civilian in St. Louis.

It wasn't among the moves he made this week. 

And it didn't go unnoticed.  

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