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 – St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden caused quite a stir when he walked into the police pension board office earlier this week and listed May 22 as his last day on the job – and he’s refusing to answer questions about it.
The mayor’s office is saying the date is arbitrary.
Who will lead the department of about 1,100 officers after Hayden’s departure – whenever it happens – remains unclear, but there are still two contenders standing in line.
Jones’ spokesman Nick Dunne said the police pension process is a multi-step process and Hayden needed to put a date on the paperwork to get the process started.
“That’s just a date and a formality, there is no date that he plans on retiring officially,” said Nick Dunne, the mayor’s spokesman. “It is no mystery to anybody especially us that the chief is going to retire, it’s inevitable, it’s going to happen, it is not going to happen on the 22nd.”
Hayden announced in September he would be retiring. He said then his last day would be at the end of February to mark his 35th anniversary with the department.
But that date came and went, and Hayden said in January he would remain on the force indefinitely as the Mayor continued her search for his replacement.
That move followed remarks Jones made about the two white men who were the only finalists for the job – one of whom has a pending discrimination lawsuit against the city.
Jones told 5 On Your Side’s news partners at the St. Louis American earlier this year: “I only had two white male candidates to choose from and St. Louis is more diverse than white males, our police department is more diverse—there were a lot of diverse candidates within the police department who were kicked out of the first round so I want to start over to find the right candidate.”
The Personnel Division required applicants to have a bachelor’s degree as well as at least 10 years of experience at the rank of captain or above – which reduced the pool of eligible internal candidates to only four.
Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole and Lt. Col. Michael Sack were the only candidates to apply, and external candidates didn’t show up for the test.
O’Toole has a history. He sued the department after Hayden was picked for police chief, alleging discrimination.
Should Hayden’s retirement happen at the end of this month, O’Toole is the next man in line to take over on an acting basis.
The last time that happened, O’Toole announced how police “owned the night” after dozens of people – including a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter – got arrested during anti-police brutality protests and a Black undercover officer working as a protester got assaulted by his fellow officers in 2017.
Sources are telling me O’Toole is close to a settlement for his discrimination lawsuit against the city.
That leaves one man standing: Sack.
Jones has not made any announcements about the status of the search for a new police chief, and whether it will be re-opened to attract more candidates.
The day after Hayden put May 22 on his police pension paperwork, he announced internally to his commanders that officers will be expected to work 12-hour shifts during the typically higher-crime summer months, citing a staffing shortage.
That caused quite a stir, too.