As the commander of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit, Lt. Keith Wildhaber has been tasked to foster inclusion in the St. Louis County Police Department (SLCPD) and help the department better serve its diverse community. Yet Lt. Wildhaber orchestrated a personal attack on a fellow officer and used the media to disseminate lies he told during the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners meeting on Thursday, July 9.
During that meeting and in an earlier Facebook post, Lt. Wildhaber asserted that, during our June 22, press conference, the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP) leadership denied having meetings or communications with the Diversity and Inclusion Unit.
The recordings and transcript from the press conference prove his accusations were unequivocally false. Yet, in a follow-up interview with KSDK, Lt. Wildhaber repeated his lies, and they were broadcast to a public audience. During that interview, he also asserted that ESOP opposed his selection as commander of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit because he is a white man.
As an organization whose leaders are consistently attacked for their righteous pursuit of equity, fairness and respect for those who have been denied a representative voice for far too long, we find these blatant lies and racially charged assertions extremely offensive and divisive. We welcome any criticism when we or any minority or non-minority officer is wrong, but not lies. Lt. Wildhaber’s lies harm ESOP’s reputation and the reputation of individual board members. Lt. Wildhaber’s tactics reinforce the systemic attitudes that have suppressed marginalized groups and made the department resistant to change for so long, yet he is tasked to spearhead change.
Regarding our position on his appointment, ESOP has been very public, specific and consistent in our concerns. St. Louis American published our official statement about his appointment on December 18, 2019. It was distributed widely to the media and shared with the public on our social media channels.
We recognized that forming the unit was a step in the right direction, but we clearly stated our extreme disappointment in the selection process: “The fact that there was no selection process held for such an important assignment signals to us the lack of sincerity in the department’s commitment to address diversity and inclusion for all of its employees.”
We contended that the commander “should have a strong history of being a champion for racial diversity, inclusion, equity and demonstrated the prerequisites that would lead him/her to be selected as the most qualified employee.” Our stance has not changed.
By his admission, Lt. Wildhaber lacks any formal training in diversity and inclusion. Further, Lt. Wildhaber’s voice for change and an end to discrimination was inaudible until 2016. Even then, his advocacy rarely extended to other marginalized groups within the police department.
ESOP has been vocally leading the fight for change since 1972. However, as our leadership stated at the press conference, we “have not had very many” meetings with Lt. Wildhaber. And, it took more than one year for SLCPD to even recognize ESOP’s St. Louis County Chapter as an official organization.
Our Memorandum of Understanding was finally signed by the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners and Chief Barton on June 30. The next day we publicly expressed our optimism and eagerness to “work collectively with all interested parties to improve upon the practices and policies that often prove to be barriers for fairness, equity and inclusion for all.” Just days later on July 9, Lt. Wildhaber used the time allocated to the Diversity and Inclusion Unit with the Board of Police Commissioners to continue his attack against ESOP and a subordinate officer.
We challenge Lt. Wildhaber to prove that his advocacy for diversity and inclusion extends to all marginalized groups. We challenge SLCPD to evaluate whether Lt. Wildhaber is capable of being the champion for change that the department so desperately needs to make transformative change in racial diversity, inclusion and equity.