An independent city department is butting heads with St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones in the search for the city’s next police chief.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden announced his retirement in early September. He will step down Feb. 23, the day marking his 35th anniversary with the department.
At the time of Hayden’s announcement, Jones said the nationwide search for Hayden’s successor would start immediately and would “focus on individuals who are experienced in 21st-century policing methods.” She also swore to keep the process transparent to the public with listening sessions and a town hall.
The vacancy presented a significant opportunity in Jones’ effort to re-envision policing in the city.
However, sources within Jones’ administration told The St. Louis American the city’s personnel department, an independent bureau who does not answer to the mayor, established qualifications for the next chief and has selected six finalists so far. One of those requirements was that a candidate must have at least 10 years policing experience at the rank of captain or higher.
The personnel department oversees pay, hiring and employee discipline for the city.
Former city personnel director Rick Frank, who retired Dec. 1, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year police chief finalists would be chosen solely by his department, breaking from the way in which Hayden was chosen under Mayor Lyda Krewson, who hired an outside consultant to find and pick the finalists.
It would then be up to Jones’ public safety director, Dan Isom, to choose a candidate from that list.
Sources in Jones’ administration also told The St. Louis American the personnel department rejected the majority of 30 people nationwide who applied for the position and administered a written test to two internal candidates, who are both white but did not administer a virtual version of the test to the other four out-of-state candidates.
One of those internal candidates is assistant chief Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, who served as acting chief during the Jason Stockley protests in 2017. He came under scrutiny for police brutality perpetrated during those protests and is named in at least one lawsuit.
He also sued the city, alleging racial discrimination when Hayden, who is Black, was appointed police chief instead of him. That lawsuit is still pending.
The second internal candidate is Lt. Col. Michael Sack, commander of the Bureau of Professional Standards and has been with the department for 27 years.
According to city sources, the St. Louis Civil Service Commission voted Monday to require virtual testing be administered for the out-of-state candidates. They also said to expect the commission to take the wheel in guiding how the search is conducted from here on out.