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Byers' Beat: Deadline pressure mounting to name new St. Louis police chief

Town hall is supposed to take place in 11 days, but mayor doesn't know who three finalists will be yet
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones wants to have a town hall 11 days from now with three finalists vying to become the next police chief – but she doesn’t know who they are yet.

That’s because the Personnel Department manages the hiring process, and the Personnel Director operates independently of the mayor.

The personnel director generates a list of six finalists that is sent to the mayor’s Public Safety Director.

A source familiar with the matter said the mayor’s office hasn’t received that list of six but knows a total of 10 out of the 34 who applied for the position made the first cut.

Of those 10, four of them are internal candidates and six are external candidates.

The selection process to find the city’s next top cop this time around has been perhaps the longest in the city’s history, at 14 months, and it’s supposed to end before the end of the year.

It began in September 2021 when then-Chief John Hayden announced he would retire in February. The personnel department conducted a search on its own and sent a list of six finalists to the mayor’s office that included four external candidates and two internal candidates.

Those internal candidates, Lt. Col. Mike Sack and Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, were both white men. The four external candidates didn’t show up for the written portion of the application process, so they were excluded. O’Toole had a discrimination lawsuit pending against the city, which, as a term of the settlement agreement, ended his career with the department.

Sack was the last man standing.

As all that was getting sorted out, Hayden agreed to remain at the helm.

He finally retired in June, and Jones appointed Sack as her Interim Chief and announced she wanted the personnel director to re-start the police chief application process telling the St. Louis American the finalists “didn’t reflect the diversity of the department.”

She also pledged the process would be more transparent than the first time around.

The long-time personnel director retired, and Jones appointed John Moten as the interim.

The Regional Business Group paid for the Boulware Group to conduct the search alongside the personnel division.

And Moten also changed the standards applicants must meet to apply for the chief’s position, no longer requiring they hold the rank of captain or higher for at least 10 years.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association complained the division was lowering its standards for one of the most important positions in a city plagued by crime.

Moten confirmed 34 applicants applied by the Aug. 15 deadline, but would not say how many were internal, external or give any other information about them.

He also extended the application deadline for two weeks to try to get more applicants.

His term as interim personnel director was also extended by a month.

Jones named Sonya Jenkins-Gray as the permanent director in October, and she began Nov. 7.

Even though she’s a mayoral appointee, the city’s charter says she doesn’t answer to the mayor.

It’s an effort to prevent patronage in that position.

Jenkins-Gray now has to get the six names to the mayor’s public safety director before the town hall, which is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at Vashon High School.

Public Safety Director Dan Isom will then have 25 days following that town hall to hire the city’s next police chief.

And it’s all coming to a head almost exactly one year to the day the city’s personnel division named the finalists that didn’t meet the mayor’s liking last time.

As of right now, the public still doesn’t know who the finalists are, or if they reflect the diversity of the department.

Eleven days from now, that is supposed to change.

And the public will have a chance to say whether they think the process was more transparent this time around. Or not.

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