ST. LOUIS — Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom is stepping down after two years at the helm of arguably one of the city’s most important departments.
The former chief of the St. Louis Police Department is heading to Ameren next month to become the vice president of safety, security and crisis management.
Mayor Tishaura Jones announced Tuesday that veteran Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Charles Coyle will become her next interim public safety director.
Jones is expected to conduct a national search for a permanent hire for the position – which is a mayoral appointee. She said during a press conference in her office Tuesday she expects the search for a permanent hire to last three to six months.
Isom's last day will be Feb. 11, and Coyle will begin Feb. 13.
When asked why she operated two years with an interim in the position only to replace him with another interim director, Jones said, “It’s my prerogative.”
She thanked Isom for his service, and listed the ways Isom has made progress on a number of her public safety priorities, including the launch of the Office of Violence Prevention, the closure of The Workhouse, continuing to consolidate the city’s 911 dispatching services and hiring the new chief of police.
Isom said he believes Jones’ pick for his replacement is a good one.
“A lot of things have happened in a short period of time, and I think the foundation is set for the next person to really make it even better,” Isom said.
In a sit-down interview with the I-Team ahead of Tuesday's announcement, Isom said he’s proud of the inroads he’s made with St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office, including getting some officers off of an exclusion list that doesn’t allow them to pursue cases.
Isom’s departure comes just weeks after he hired Robert Tracy as the city’s new police chief. Tracy is the first external chief the department has ever seen in its more than 150-year history.
“We needed someone who was transformative leader, someone who has a variety of experience, he's had a strong career in many different police departments, and has been very successful in all of them,” Isom told the I-Team ahead of Tuesday’s announcement. “And I think we needed that fresh perspective and we needed that strong leadership and experience to move the police department in the city in the right direction.”
Tracy attended the announcement Tuesday, but did not stand with the mayor and did not speak.
In addition to the police department, the city’s fire department, corrections division, the Office of Violence Prevention and 911 dispatch all report to the public safety director.
When Isom first arrived, the locks on jail cells weren’t working, allowing detainees to wander out of their cells as they wished and led to multiple riots that made national news.
“I think there's still a lot of work we need to be done at corrections,” Isom said. “I think the most important thing is that the mayor helped in securing the funding, over $20 million to upgrade the correctional facility, and we worked with the employees inside the facility to really look at what would be the best option, not only for detainees, but also for the employees who are working to make them safer.”
Isom also hired Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah to be the city’s corrections commissioner. In 2022, she told the I-Team the mayor’s office has invested millions to fix the downtown jail – including the locks.
Isom also promised to combine police, fire and EMS dispatchers under one roof and under one system to help reduce extraordinarily long call wait times. He said it would take three months.
That was in 2021, and it still hasn’t happened.
However, police and fire leaders have signed a contract to be on the same dispatching system – something Isom called a "historic" event.
"It's been a challenge, and taken longer, way longer than I predicted," he said. "But I do feel that the foundation is set and that it is moving in the direction that the city has wanted to go."
So how long will the people of St. Louis have to wait for their 911 system to be improved?
"I'm hoping it will happen as soon as possible," he said.
This is the second time Isom is leaving a public service position for the city. He was a St. Louis police officer for 25 years – the last five of which as its chief.
He took a leave of absence from his job as Executive Director of REJIS – the Regional Justice Information Service -- to work for the Jones administration.
Isom said he believes the person who filled in for him at REJIS is doing "an outstanding job," and that the organization is in "good hands."
Coyle comes to the job with 45 years working for the city’s fire department under his belt.
He didn't have specifics Tuesday on how he plans to address some of the city's key public safety issues, including the strained relationship between Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's Office and the police department.
"I'm looking forward to work with the other leaders of this department and the Circuit Attorney's Office to have discussions with them, along with Chief Tracy, to actually kind of dig into that, to find out what's going on and why," he said.
He continued: "I think all of us can agree that we want a safe and healthy city. And doing that, it takes time and cooperation. Cooperative, collaborative leadership is important and especially important, these type of issues."
Coyle won a $350,000 settlement from the city in 2011 after he filed a lawsuit, claiming he was passed over for the fire chief’s job in favor of a white subordinate in 2007, according to 5 On Your Side’s news partners at The St. Louis American.
5 On Your Side asked Coyle if he thinks race relations within the city's public safety division have improved since then.
"Let me put it this way, that was in the past, and I'm no longer living in the past," Coyle said. "You're right, I was involved with a lawsuit, but that was 15 years ago, something like that. My focus is looking forward and being a part of any changes that need to take place in public safety and in the city."
That subordinate was Dennis Jenkerson, who remains the city’s fire chief.
Jenkerson and Tracy will now report to Coyle.
Full interview with Dan Isom: