ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County Lt. Col. Troy Doyle said he believes there is systemic racism within his department.
His opinion differs from Chief Mary Barton.
He laid out his reasons before the St. Louis County Council during its Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday.
Chairwoman Rita Days invited him to address the Council.
It is a rare moment - to say the least - when a high-ranking police commander publicly disagrees with the chief.
And there’s a lot to unpackage with all of the characters involved.
The first is the phrase systemic racism and how it’s been used since Barton became chief. Barton told the County Council weeks after she was appointed that she did not believe it existed within the department.
"I think to say that there's systemic racism in the police department is overly broad and probably not accurate," she told the Council in June. “Until we sit down and talk about it and can verify or at least ferret out what it is people are talking about, I think to put a label on it is really unfair and shortsighted.”
Chairwoman Rita Days, who is Black, then told 5 On Your Side’s Jasmine Payoute she couldn’t believe it.
“It went over my head because I kind of couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Days said.
That moment has plagued Barton, who is white, ever since.
And it surfaced again Thursday as Doyle addressed the Council – this time with Days as its chairwoman.
“Systemic racism exists within the St. Louis County Police Department,” he said. “As much as it pains me to say that, it must be publicly stated in order for us to begin the healing process and start the process of building trust in our communities.
“It’s also important to note that systemic racism didn’t start with the appointment of Chief Barton. Systemic racism existed long before the appointment of Chief Barton. I will go back as far as 1955 when the police department was first established. That said, we have a major opportunity here for change and progress since the Teneo Group has done most of the legwork for us.”
The Teneo Group is a consulting firm the business community paid to review the city and county police departments.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page appointed Doyle as the county police department’s liaison with the consulting firm, so he knows the report and the process, intimately. Doyle has since sued Page accusing him of telling the police board members to select someone other than him as police chief because he is Black, and Page’s campaign donors were uneasy about having a Black man run the department.
In his speech to the Council Thursday, Doyle said the consultants asked “several times” for demographic information about hiring and promotional processes, but were “never provided this useful data.”
“Why is that important?” he said. “Little is known of the efforts to identify barriers to employment.
"As indicated numerous times through the report, that certain demographic information isn’t collected. I sent numerous emails to our HR director regarding providing me with the information which was met with no response. This is concerning. This should be concerning to you also because if we can’t even be transparent within the police department regarding this type of demographic information, how do we expect to be transparent to the general public? This speaks volumes to our level of transparency.”
The department’s HR Director is Carl Becker, who once served as the county attorney overseeing the infamous discrimination lawsuit that ended up costing the county $10.25 million.
Doyle also criticized the department’s hiring process.
“Certain individuals make it to an interview while others have been disqualified for the same issues,” he said. “I have been fortunate to be on the hiring interviews over the past seven years and to this day I’m not sure how it’s determined who is not best qualified. I have kept my notes over the years and I have interviewed individuals who have made disparaging remarks about people of color, and, even outside of my objection to hire these individuals, they were still hired.
“Background investigators are not given classes on human resource standards and practices, cultural competency, implicit bias etc. yet they are the gatekeepers.”
He said an example includes how many Black candidates are disqualified over mismanagement of their credit cards.
“That shouldn’t be a barrier to employment with police,” he said.
Doyle did express some optimism along the way. He said he believes the relationship between the Ethical Society of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police union known as the St. Louis County Police Association is growing.
“I will let those organizations talk about that relationship, but I’m happy to report that there has been much progress in this area,” he said.
He concluded with a word of caution.
“We need to be looking critically at everything we do,” he said. “Long-established practices, procedures and habits are the most suspect.
“I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you sit on a stone for three years, you will get used to it. We are at a critical point in our region as it relates to law enforcement, and we are not in any position for any magic tricks or band-aide approaches.
"Our communities are tired, frustrated and to be frank, flat-out exhausted. Our police officers want to police and catch bad guys, our communities want to be respected and our employees are looking for fairness. Hopefully, we use this report to move our agency forward because now is not the time to be sitting on that stone.”