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St. Louis County leaders voice concern about police chief's denial of 'systemic racism'

"I think to say that there's systemic racism in the police department is overly broad and probably not accurate," Chief Mary Barton replied

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Some St. Louis County leaders are voicing their concern about their new police chief.

"It went over my head because I kind of couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Councilwoman Rita Heard Days.

The meeting held Tuesday night was a committee held to introduce new Police Chief Mary Barton to county council members. It touched on Chief Barton's efforts to increase community engagement, as well as implement training on ethical policing and diversity within the department.

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"We embrace the fact that we will no longer tolerate or no longer put up with inappropriate remarks, inappropriate behavior," said Chief Barton.

The statement by Chief Barton caused concern for some, including Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, whose district covers Chesterfield. She responded by asking the chief to clarify what she meant.

"Chief, I want to go back to something you said earlier, about what we really need is a shift in culture where we no longer tolerate inappropriate behavior. Can we just call that racism?" asked Dunaway.

"There's all kinds of things. Some of it is ageism, some of it is sexism and I think to say that there's systemic racism in the police department is overly broad and probably not accurate. 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,” Chief Barton responded. 

5 On Your Side spoke with Councilwoman Heard Days about Tuesday night's meeting. She detailed her issue with Barton's statement.

"She lumped... the racial thing in with improper comments of other kinds and clearly the racism issue is different and should be treated different," said Heard Days.

Others, such as the St. Louis County NAACP president, gave specific examples of racism officers faced within the department.

"We've had meetings with African American police officers in regards to how they're treated differently and how their representation by the Ethical Society of Police is not being recognized in St. Louis County," said John Bowman.

5 On Your Side reached out to Chief Barton's office along with other council members for comment.

We have not yet heard back.

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