ST. LOUIS — The mayor’s office on Monday released the names of the four finalists vying to become St. Louis’ next best cop, all of whom will attend a public town hall Tuesday night as part of the city’s vetting process.
The finalists are Larry Boone, a former police chief from Norfolk, Va.; Robert Tracy, chief of police in Wilmington, Delaware; Melron Kelly, deputy chief of Columbia, South Carolina; and Acting St. Louis Police Chief Michael Sack.
They will take questions from the community at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Avenue. Residents can submit discussion topics on the city’s website, and a moderator will ask questions based on those comments, city spokesman Nick Desideri said. Participants will also be able to submit comment cards on Tuesday evening.
Monday’s finalists are the product of a second search by the city’s police chief. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said in January that the first search in 2021 had to “start over,” citing the need for a more transparent process and expressing displeasure at having only two internal finalists for the job.
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Sack, the acting chief, has been with the department for 26 years and has worked in District Four, the Central Patrol Detective Bureau and the Special Services Division.
He has been acting head of the department since former chief John Hayden retired on June 18.
Sack was serving as commandant of the Office of Professional Standards in 2018 when St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner claimed Sack thanked her for creating a list of 28 officers she would stop reporting. accept the cases and would prohibit serving as a witness due to its “credibility”. problems. Hayden denied that Sack had any role in creating the list.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents about 1,000 police officers in the city, criticized Sack’s involvement.
Tracy, from Delaware, has 30 years of law enforcement experience and was named Wilmington’s police chief in April 2017 amid an upsurge in gun violence in the city of 70,000. He promised to help the department fight back with strategies based on the data he’s seen working in previous jobs.
Wilmington soon saw a 60% reduction in shootings, and Tracy was recognized at the President’s State of the Union.
But gun violence has risen again in 2020 in a nationwide surge. And earlier this year, the Wilmington City Council narrowly passed a resolution declaring “no confidence” in Tracy’s ability to lead the department due to concerns about a lack of diversity on staff.
Boone, from Virginia, joined the Norfolk Police Department in 1989 after growing up in what he described as a poor, black neighborhood in New Jersey where he was regularly harassed by police and got into trouble with the law. He was appointed department head for the city of around 235,000 in December 2016.
He gained national attention in the summer of 2020 when he joined a local protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. He went on to back police reform proposals, including creating a civilian oversight board and reallocating part of his department’s budget to helping people with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness.
Boone retired from the department last spring and told a local television station he grew frustrated with his inability to reduce gun violence as police chief. He is also in the running for the highest police officer position in Cincinnati.
Kelly, a native of South Carolina, has worked in law enforcement for 23 years and is the youngest deputy chief in Columbia Police Department history. Columbia is home to approximately 137,000 residents.
He was pictured with Bruce Franks, an activist and community organizer who came to prominence in 2014 during protests in Ferguson. The men also exchanged tweets.
Kelly has written columns and spoken at police conferences highlighting her support for community policing practices, particularly involving youth, to address violence and help police build trust with communities.
Spokespersons for the three St. Louis police unions recently said the process for selecting the next chief was opaque, leaving residents and officers in the dark until Monday afternoon. The town hall, scheduled for Tuesday evening, was first announced on November 22.
“It’s unfortunate that citizens can’t speak directly to the candidates because someone else is going to pick the questions,” said Sgt. Mickey Owens, president of the St. Louis Police Leadership Organization, which represents the interests of department supervisors and commanders.
The city initially said three candidates would attend Tuesday’s forum, but expanded that number to four on Monday.
“I thought it would be heavier internally than externally just because coming to a new city is a different animal,” said SLPOA president Jay Schroeder. “It’s going to take a while for a new chief to understand the regional dynamics — because, you know, St. Louis is very much a regional police department.”
Three city police majors applied for the position and were passed over, said Sgt. Donnell Walters, president of the Ethical Society of Police. All three are members of ESOP, which campaigns for racial equality in the police.
Walters said Monday evening that he had received several calls and emails from residents asking how external applicants were chosen over internal applicants.
“Citizens are questioning the process because the process has not been made public,” he said. “These things are bad for the city. I think we all feel betrayed, misled and unappreciated as a city to say we’re going to be part of the process – I don’t see how we’re part of the process.
Schroeder agreed that the process was not opened as the city had announced.
“I think that’s the most unusual part of it all – nobody really knows,” he said. “We would like some time to review the candidates, who they are, where they are from and what their credentials are. When Hayden was chosen, we had a pretty good idea of who would be there for mayor.
The city held a similar town hall in 2017, involving six finalists, before hiring Hayden.
Hayden earned $153,000 as police chief in 2021, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch public salary database.
Jones in January stressed the need for nationwide search and greater diversity in the applicant pool.
Sack and Tracy are white men; Kelly and Boone are black men.
Austin Huguelet and Taylor Tiamoyo Harris contributed to this report.