One Year In, St. Louis County Police Chief Barton Defends Her Record On Race

St. Louis County police chief Mary Barton says she is the best person to run the division for 950 people, despite mounting pressure to step down.

“I’m fair, I’m fair and I listen to everyone,” said Barton in an interview on Friday about her first year in office. “I refuse to get involved in politics. I have to turn all this noise off and just go forward and move this police department forward in the direction it needs to go. And this department is developing into a very fair company. “

In a report published late last year by the consulting firm Teneo Risk, a “serious racial segregation” was found within the department, which was tightened by personnel guidelines that were viewed as subjective. The company said there was “a tighter window of time” to address the issues.

Barton often stumbled upon racial issues. Last June, she had to go back on a comment she made at a meeting with St. Louis County Council where she dismissed the existence of systemic racism in the department. At least four black officials are suing the department for discrimination in recruitment and promotion. One, Lieutenant Colonel Troy Doyle, was widely regarded as the leading candidate for chief. And both the Ethical Society of Police and County Council have not cast a vote of confidence in Barton, while the County Police Officers Association is considering whether to do the same.

“You can’t fix years of problems in a night or a year,” said Barton, who was sworn in on April 30, 2020.

She cited her regular meetings with the Ethical Society, which advocates for color officers, and her quickness in handling individual incidents such as academy teachers using racial slur as evidence of her efforts to bridge the gap. She has also improved the racial justice training in the department and has created a unit to deal with this issue. However, the Teneo report found that the department was not making good use of the device.

The department has also enrolled in ABLE, a Georgetown University program that teaches officials to intervene on the ground when they see their colleagues are doing the wrong thing. A department spokesman said he was not aware of any cases where an officer used the training course to call another officer.

“I will define success as the fewer cases that we become aware of, that we believe are racially motivated, intolerant, or sometimes just not educated,” Barton said.

Policing in the pandemic

In some ways, Barton said, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was a huge drag when she took over the department.

“But in other ways it got us creative and came up with new ways to connect with people when you weren’t able to talk to them or attend events with them,” she said. “But I’m happy to say that despite our creative efforts, our service to the citizens of St. Louis County has not declined.”

Around 200 employees in the department, both civil servants and civilians, tested positive for COVID-19 as the pandemic progressed, Barton said. All but one were able to go back to work.

Cooperation with the city

Barton, district manager Sam Page, and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones were both looking for ways to improve police cooperation.

“Crime really doesn’t know any boundaries between the city or the county or the county or the parishes,” she said. “Anything you can do to tackle the ongoing crime, especially violent crime and murder, is well worth the investment.”

The Teneo report for the county and a separate report assessing the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department both complained about a lack of coordination and information sharing between and within the departments.

Controversial combined policing in the Walnut Park West neighborhood and Jennings town in the county has reduced crime in those areas. However, officials admitted that the start was difficult as the extent of the collaboration was not initially disclosed. Teneo was a consultant in this effort and the county has hired the company to provide additional consultancy services.

You can hear more of Barton’s interview on Monday in St. Louis on the Air.

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