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St. Louis County names new police chief

Kenneth Gregory has been with the department for 41 years.

CLAYTON, Mo. — The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners has named Kenneth Gregory as the department’s chief of police – bypassing a selection process that has been customary within the department throughout its history.

“Over the past six months, the board has engaged in extensive discussions concerning our process for selecting and criteria for the next chief,” according to an email sent department-wide on behalf of the civilian board about the announcement. “Through our discussions, we addressed the positive and challenging elements of each potential process.

“Also, over the past six months, the board had the opportunity to work collaboratively with Chief Gregory on both day-to-day operational matters and long-range strategic decisions. We were impressed by his collaborative leadership style, his decision-making process, his community engagement and his abilities to convert department issues into concrete action items. Chief Gregory is calm under pressure and feels passionately about the department and its commitment to excellence.”

Gregory was named the interim police chief last July after the abrupt resignation of Chief Mary Barton – the department’s first-ever female chief.

Gregory becomes the department’s first-ever Black chief.

The police department said Chief Gregory was not available for an interview Tuesday.

Traditionally, the Board of Police Commissioners has opened an application process to those interested in the position.

At least one other member of the department publicly announced he would be applying for the chief's position. Lt. Col. Troy Doyle announced via Twitter he was interested in becoming chief.

He filed a lawsuit against the county alleging St. Louis County Executive Sam Page directed the Board of Police Commissioners to bypass him for the job because his political supporters did not want to see a Black chief. Doyle is Black, and his lawsuit is still pending.

Doyle sent a statement Wednesday reacting to news of Gregory's promotion.

"I was looking forward to the opportunity to compete for the chief position; however, as a member of Chief Gregory‘s executive leadership team, I will continue to support his efforts to move the department forward," he wrote.

Doyle's attorney, Jerome Dobson, said Tuesday Doyle is a more qualified candidate for chief than Gregory, and the only difference between them is Doyle filed a discrimination complaint. Gregory has not.

Dobson noted Lt. Col. Brian Ludwig was selected as the deputy chief -- a position for which Doyle is more qualified. Ludwig is white.

And just because the department now has a Black chief doesn't make Doyle's allegations of racial discrimination moot, Dobson said.

"In that situation, the police board chose Barton instead, who appeared to be lacking essential qualifications at the time of her hire and her performance demonstrated she was not the best candidate," Dobson said. "The difference now is that the police board had an African American in the position on an interim basis who didn’t even apply for the position last time."

Gregory did not apply for the position during that last process, which ended in the selection of Barton.

"When the better qualified candidate files a charge of discrimination and the individual who is not as well qualified is selected, it certainly raises a question of whether retaliation is a factor," Dobson said.

Gregory is 69 years old and has been with the department for 41 years.

In its email to the department, the board wrote: “We have observed Chief Gregory receive feedback from department members and members of the community and critically analyze the department’s current operations to determine best practices, changes and initiatives to address those concerns. We have confidence in his abilities to work collaboratively, strive for improvement and protect the department’s successes and achievements.”

The St. Louis County Police Association issued a statement congratulating Gregory on his appointment. 

"We are looking forward to continuing our important work with Chief Gregory as we strive to make the St. Louis County Police Department the best place to work in law enforcement and an agency our community will always be proud of," it read.

Credit: St. Louis County Police Department
Interim St. Louis County Police Chief Kenneth Gregory

The police union also weighed in on the unprecedented selection of the new chief without a traditional open process.

"While the St. Louis County Police Association supports more transparency we do recognize that our civilian oversight board, the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, does have sole discretion and authority to appoint the Chief of Police under the St. Louis County Charter."

The Ethical Society of Police, which represents primarily Black officers, also issued a statement reacting to Gregory's appointment.

"With Chief Gregory's 40 years of experience, he brings an abundance of institutional knowledge to the position. Accordingly, we look forward to working collaboratively with him to dismantle many of the practices and policies that have created barriers to employment for minorities as well as damaged relationships within marginalized communities." 

ESOP wants the hiring to represent the true diversity and inclusion and not just the aesthetic. 

"Is there really inclusion or an illusion?," Ethical Society of Police attorney William E. Dailey Jr. said. "The probing question we have to ask is, is it enough to have a black or brown face? Is it enough to have a female or a particular certain sexual orientation? Is it enough to have someone with special needs in a position of power? Or do we need a person who is sensitive to these communities and advocates for these communities from a position of power."

Several County Council members also reacted Tuesday to news of Gregory's appointment including former County Police Chief Tim Fitch.

"(Gregory) had opportunities in the past to apply for the chief job and did not, so my fear was that we were going to miss this opportunity to get him as the chief so I'm very, very happy for the citizens of St. Louis County that they have this chief in particular," Fitch said.

Fitch called Gregory a man of integrity.

"He's a smart man, he knows his limitations, which is the sign of a good chief," Fitch said. "There are some chiefs that will never ask for help, and they will walk right down a terrible path when they could have avoided it.

"We've seen that in the past, so I think he's set himself up for a great tenure as the police chief."

County Chairman Rita Days said she was surprised by the Board of Police Commissioner's decision to appoint Gregory without the customary application process.

"The Council does not really have control over the police department it's through the Commission and so they're free to do whatever they want to do," she said. "But I thought that we would have had some kind of a process, or at least some notification as to what they were trying to do so that when people like you ask me questions I can ask answer them intelligently."

She said she hopes Gregory will be more engaged with the community.

"It's no secret that I didn't think our previous chief was," Days said. "He represents the African American police officers. In this arena, it is important that he makes sure that they are at the table. I think that is going to be paramount, that's going to be a lynchpin I think of his tenure as chief."

Gregory's original plan for his life was teaching. He got his undergraduate degree on a football scholarship from the University of Missouri. After graduation, he became a teacher in Jennings, which required him to have a master’s degree after five years.  

“I could not afford to go back to school and get my master’s degree within five years,” he told 5 On Your Side after his appointment as the interim chief.

Then, he met some guys playing flag football who were St. Louis County police officers.

“Never in my life had I thought about being a policeman,” he said. “And 41 years later, here I sit.”

His watch began in December 1979 in the North County Precinct. 

Gregory has held nearly every position within the department during his tenure, and was among the commanders accused of discrimination in a lawsuit involving a gay police officer. 

At the trial in October 2019, Gregory's former assistant, who is gay, accused him of calling homosexuality an "abomination," and retaliated against her after she listed her wife as an emergency contact on an employment form. 

Gregory denied those allegations under oath.

His former assistant was a witness in the officer's lawsuit. A St. Louis County jury awarded the officer, Lt. Keith Wildhaber, a $20 million verdict, which was later settled for $10.25 million.  

On Tuesday, Gregory promoted Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Ludwig to the rank of Deputy Chief. Ludwig has been with the department since 1996 and previously served in the North County Precinct, the Bureau of Professional Standards.

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