You may have read that the Board of Police Commissioners has begun its search for a new police chief.
The St. Louis Police Department cannot do a national search for its next police chief. The next St. Louis police chief can only be - by state law - one of a couple of dozen of the police department’s senior police commanders. Several of those commanders have signaled their interest in being considered. An internal process will narrow that group down. The police chief will be selected by - and will report to - a board of four commissioners appointed by the governor of Missouri. (As mayor, I am the fifth member of the police commission.)
The new police chief will take charge of the department at a challenging time. Deploying one of the country’s largest per capita police forces efficiently and fairly will require both fiscal management and strategic leadership.
The city which the police department protects is economically and racially diverse. The region’s largest and busiest business district and quiet residential neighborhoods share city limits with some residential and commercial districts wracked by poverty, disinvestment, and drugs. Although overall crime rates and most categories of crimes are way down, the City’s homicide rate is up compared to the past couple of years. As residents and business owners, we expect our police department to keep our own neighborhoods and districts safe, but we also expect it to enforce curfews, patrol problem properties, nab illegal dumpers, curtail brick and metal thefts, and keep traffic moving when the Cardinals are playing at home and O.A.R. is playing at Live Off The Levee.
Within the police department itself, the new chief will have to reconcile serving officers’ concerns about wages and working conditions with the concerns of retired officers about pensions and health benefits. And, the new chief will inevitably have to address historic community concerns about civilian review, local control, and residency.
I will have only one of the five votes that select a chief. I hope for an open and fair selection process that considers all of the commanders who have chosen to apply.
Here is what I will be looking for: The next chief must be a crime-fighter able to make the best use of the resources of the police department and to match them up to the greater resources of the diverse community organizations, schools, businesses, churches, and residents the department serves. Above all, the next chief must have a passionate commitment (and commensurate leadership ability) to make City neighborhoods safe.
I will keep you updated on the process.