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Calls for more diversity as St. Louis County police board gets public input on search for new chief

More than a dozen people weighed in during the first listening session
Credit: KSDK

FLORISSANT, Mo. — The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners sat mostly quiet Wednesday night as more than a dozen people told them what they'd like to see in Chief Jon Belmar's replacement.

"We are grateful and hopeful for this profound change,” John Bowman, the president of the St. Louis County NAACP, told the board.

Bowman said the public listening session was a step in the right direction toward transparency.

The meeting was held at the Hazelwood East Early Childhood Center in north St. Louis County.

Several speakers mentioned diversity as one of things they’d like see in the next chief.

"I want you all to remember and see someone's face who looks just like mine,” Officer Shanette Hall said.

RELATED: Listening session seeks public input in search for new St. Louis County Police chief

Hall told the board she was once the only black woman in her precinct and dealt with both implicit and explicit bias from her coworkers.

"We need a chief that's going to possess not only diversity in appearance but diversity in thought,” Hall said.

"And not just diverse in north county but diverse because north county is most certainly different than south county and west county,” Mark Behlmann of the Hazelwood School District added.

The board of commissioners hasn't opened up the process for applications or even determined what the applicant pool will be. Board members said they wanted to hear from the public first.

Some speakers called for a chief who will change the culture inside the department.

"What are some new policies that would have [prevented] that $19 million snafu?" Rev. Phillip Duvall asked.

He was referring to the discrimination lawsuit filed by Lt. Keith Wildhaber, who was at the public hearing Wednesday night. A jury awarded Wildhaber more than $19 million, but he settled with the county for $10.25 million.

The settlement happened the same day Chief Belmar announced his retirement.

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Chief Belmar was in the building during the comment session Wednesday but not in the room.

The board said that's because he wanted people to be able to speak freely.

The police board is scheduling two more meetings like this over the next month in different parts of the county. We'll let you know as soon as those plans are finalized.