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St. Louis County police change course on practice of announcing terminations

Historically, police chiefs have publicly announced when they fire someone, but not in a more recent case involving the chief's relative

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — In 2013, then-St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch announced he had fired Lt. Patrick “Rick” Hayes after he was accused of ordering officers to profile Black people near shopping centers in south St. Louis County.

In 2018, then-Chief Jon Belmar announced in a news release he had fired two officers who were involved in a fatal pursuit, accusing them of “misleading” and “discrediting” themselves and the department.

Harsh accusations. Harsh words. And harsh punishments.

This week, however, the department changed course on its practice of announcing when it fires someone.

That someone was a dispatcher and a relative of current Chief Mary Barton.

He was caught Jan. 9 using an expletive followed by the "n word" on an open police radio mic. 

The words echoed across the radios officers wear on their bodies as he reacted to a call for help from some citizens in the middle of a domestic issue of some sort. 

No one will ever truly know how many people heard it, but my phone certainly started ringing within moments of it happening.

Only after media outlets asked whether the dispatcher had been fired did the department issue a statement, saying his employment “ended” Tuesday.

The Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization which represents primarily Black officers, issued a statement Friday in response to the department's announcement saying it "tells us exactly what we need to know about the lack of leadership at the St. Louis County Police Department."

"The dispatcher, who should have been terminated well before Tuesday, has answered thousands of calls from St. Louis citizens for years. We can only imagine what could have been said to them. This was another opportunity for SLCPD to display some type of leadership when addressing racism to their department and the public and they failed, again."

The organization also criticized Barton for not addressing the department or the public herself. 

"Along with SLCPD employees deserving an apology from Chief Barton, the public also deserved an explanation and apology."

I had to file a Sunshine request to get the dispatcher's age, which still hasn’t been fulfilled.

A person’s eligibility for their full pension is based on a formula that includes their age plus the number of years they served.

When pressed about why the department could not comment on whether the dispatcher had been fired or was allowed to resign, the department’s public information office said that is a personnel matter upon which they cannot comment.

So, how did the department explain itself to its own ranks?

Multiple sources sent me a copy of an email Human Resources Director Carl Becker sent “on behalf of” Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory.

Barton put Gregory in charge of the internal investigation after she recused herself.

It’s unclear why Gregory couldn’t issue his own statement on the matter, and instead relied on Becker’s words – which were again, devoid of any indication that the department held this dispatcher accountable by firing him.

"On Jan. 19, we concluded the investigative process and his employment with St. Louis County ended,” he wrote.

Becker also wrote that the department acted as swiftly as possible on the matter, noting the employee has is entitled to due process.

The rest of the statement predictably admonished the dispatcher’s actions.

But when it comes to saying whether someone gets fired, the department has shown itself to be unpredictable.

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