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St. Louis relaunching nationwide police chief search, Hayden sets retirement

Chief John Hayden announced he will retire June 18. Lt. Col. Michael Sack was named interim chief.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden announced Wednesday he will retire one month from now, and the search for his replacement is about to start over.

Lt. Col. Michael Sack will serve as the city’s interim chief until Mayor Tishaura Jones’ administration can name a permanent replacement.

Hayden originally announced in September that he would retire in February, but that date came and went and Hayden said he would remain on the force so Jones could find his replacement.

He announced Wednesday he will retire June 18.

"This has been an honor of a lifetime serving as police chief of this city," Chief Hayden told reporters. "I love this city. I'll always be here. I'm looking forward to watching Col. Sack fill the role, and I'm sure, very sure, that he can take the reins with authority."

"I've learned a lot from him," Lt. Col. Sack said Wednesday. "I'm confident I'll be able to carry out these responsibilities without any issue."

Jones is expected to announce the Regional Business Council will be paying a consulting firm, the Boulware Group, between $50,000 and $60,000 to conduct a national search for the position. 

That group previously helped find a police chief for Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Detroit, according to its website.

“I think they should find someone within the community who kind of knows the layout of the people here, “ said Elisheba Dotson, who has lived on the city’s north side for the last five years.

Dotson’s convinced the right candidate is currently working at the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department.

“I want to see someone who has a heart for the people, who has a heart for the community and has the heart to make sure the people in our communities are safe,” said Dotson.

However, her fiancé, Nino Ross thinks the city’s next top cop doesn’t have to currently work at the police department or be familiar with the city.

“We need a fresh face. A fresh name, someone who is looking to making a mark. Someone young and from out of town wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I think they would offer some new ideas and new perspectives, ” said Ross.

Sack was one of two finalists to replace Hayden during a police chief selection process that the Division of Personnel conducted late last year. The nationwide search yielded four additional finalists from outside the department, but they didn't show up to take the management test, leaving only two internal finalists.

The other finalist, Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the City of St. Louis in 2017 when Hayden became chief, alleging he had been passed over for the job because he is white. Hayden is Black.

The city settled that lawsuit with O’Toole Monday, according to sources familiar with the settlement agreement.

Part of that $162,000 settlement put O’Toole’s retirement date at May 21, awarded him the salary he missed out on because he was not named chief, and allowed him to draw a pension based on a chief’s salary, according to those sources.

Sack said Wednesday he is up to the job and ready to continue the focus set before him.

"Our focus will continue to be as it has been: on violent crime," he stated. "Not just creating a wide swath through a community to effect arrests, which can cause more harm than good, but identifying particular bad actors, developing cases and presenting those cases to the circuit attorney's office and the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution."

Hayden’s temporary replacement, Sack, has been with the department for 28 years -- and his relationship with the rank-and-file has been rocky.

Credit: KSDK
Lt. Col. Michael Sack

During his time as commander of Bureau of Professional Standards, in August 2018, Sack drew criticism from the St. Louis Police Officers Association for sending emails to officers telling them they had been placed on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s exclusion list.

Officers who are part of that list are not allowed to serve as witnesses in cases or apply for charges.

Gardner claimed Sack asked her office to put 29 officers on such a list – a claim Hayden denied, and called the list “unnecessary overreach.”

In a statement at the time, Gardner wrote: “In fact, Major Sack has even expressed his appreciation to us for helping to hold his ‘guys accountable.’”

In August 2021, the police union's business manager Jeff Roorda wrote an article titled, "Lt. Col. 'Sad Sack' Makes Mockery of Awards Ceremony." 

It read, in part: "(Expletive) Mike Sack. He is a disgrace to the badge. He's never gotten down to the nitty gritty of police work. Rather than doing the job we've all done -- that requires risky, split-second decisions that are easy to second-guess in the deliberative, cool comfort of an over-sized 7th floor office chair - Sack has made a career of sitting in judgement of those who bloody themselves in battles he's never had to fight."

Roorda also went on to criticize how Sack showed up to the ceremony wearing black tennis shoes and an "ill-fitting" uniform and called him "an unkempt mess," who left during the ceremony. 

St. Louis Police Officers Association President Jay Schroeder said Sack's hasn't been "the most popular colonels" at the department.

"His Internal Affairs Division history, the guys don’t think they get a fair deal when dealing with him," he said. "There’s been issues with the exclusionary list that have led to animosity between him and rank-and-file, but all of this can be corrected if he’s willing to work and get a message out that he’s going to stand behind the troops.

Schroeder said the police union wants to work with Sack on collective bargaining issues.

"I think the problem we’re going to have is we still don’t have an end to who the next chief is going to be," he said. "We want to hold him accountable to the officers and we want to him to do what’s right for the policemen and citizens.

"This is somebody who is now in charge for however long it takes and we’ll have to figure out a way to work together and I hope he will do that, work with the POA to get things done and get things moving in a positive direction."

Before joining the department in 1994, Sack served four years as a Catholic priest.

As a captain, Sack served as the Commander of Crimes Against Persons and was instrumental in the formation of a group known as the Homicide Ministers Alliance, which paired pastors with homicide victims’ families in an effort to keep police connected to them.

On Oct. 17, 2019, Sack was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and remained the commander of Professional Standards until October 2021, when he was transferred to command the Bureau of Community Policing.

Sack was a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Reserves, and has a bachelor’s degree in Communication/ARTS from Cardinal Glennon College; and two master’s degrees, one in divinity from Kenrick Seminary and one in business and Organization Security Management.

The Ethical Society of Police released the following statement regarding Sack's appointment to interim chief.

"Lt. Col. Michael Sack’s career of public service with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is commendable. We respect him for his rank and the person he is.

"We support Interim Chief Sack yet we will hold him accountable for our community and our officers during his time as Interim Chief as we've held Chief Hayden and previous chiefs accountable.

"We had open lines of communication with Chief Hayden and expect that will continue with Interim Chief Sack. This continuity is especially critical as we continue to work to fill the gap between law enforcement and the community through this interim leadership."


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