Police board kicks off hiring of new chief, starts internal search along with public sessions


Lt. Col. Troy Doyle of the St. Louis County Police Department talks to reporters during the County Council meeting in April 2019, after he was announced as the interim director of the Department of Justice Services. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor

The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners seems to be looking internally for the next chief of the county Police Department, asking top commanders to apply while not yet opening up a broader search.

In an internal memo released Friday, the board invited lieutenant colonels and captains in the department to apply for chief, with applications due March 11.

They will vie to replace Chief Jon Belmar, who announced his retirement effective April 30.

The officials applying are asked to submit resumes, a brief description of “relevant off-duty activities” and essays of 500 words or less on the topics: “Why you desire to be Chief of Police,” “What are the key issues currently facing the County Police Department?” and “What are the key issues facing the County Police Department in the next five years?”

As candidates progress, the board may also require a full financial disclosure, a background check and a psychological evaluation, according to the memo.

Eighteen commanders and precinct captains would qualify under the guidelines.

Doyle is a popular choice

The internal member of the department who has generated the most buzz in advance of the hiring process is Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, who served as the interim police chief in Jennings in 2011 and then served as the interim head of the county’s Department of Justice Services last year.

The popular Doyle started his career in the South County Precinct 28 years ago and has served as commander of the North County Precinct and a variety of other roles in the years since. A group of 31 North County mayors and city officials sent a joint letter to the St. Louis American newspaper last week supporting him as the only choice for chief. If chosen, Doyle would be the first African American chief in the department’s 65-year history.

After the police board’s first listening session last week in Florissant, Doyle told The Call he wasn’t yet sure if he wanted to be chief and honestly hadn’t thought about it.

“I’m interested in him being chief even if he isn’t,” a bystander said, overhearing the interview.

“There’s a lot of good people in the county Police Department I think would do the role pretty good,” Doyle said, adding that he would decide once the police board announced the process, which happened two days later.

As far as becoming chief, “when I joined the county Police Department it was nothing that ever came to mind. I enjoy my time as a county police officer and I never, ever thought about being chief of police, I didn’t. I actually enjoyed the role, enjoyed the streets. Unfortunately, I started getting promoted,” Doyle said, laughing.

Doyle has shown a flair for social media that might be helpful to a modern police chief. During the unrest in Ferguson, he used the video service Periscope to livestream events to give residents a “bird’s eye view” of the streets from a police perspective.

Public wants transparency

The police board announced the plan for an internal search after the North County listening session — the first in a series of listening sessions about the new chief that will be held around the county.

Commissioners were set to hold a session at The Pavilion at Lemay Wednesday night from 6 to 8 p.m. Another session will be held at 6 p.m. March 10 at Parkway North High School.

Despite roughly 70 attendees, plus around 20 uniformed police officers, board Chairman Ray Price, the former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, announced at the top of the North County hearing that only eight speakers had signed up so he would extend the time limit for comments from three minutes to five.

The board took rolling signups throughout the night, so in the end about 20 people spoke about what they want to see in a police chief, with Price asking them not to give specific names of candidates.

After the board held a two-minute meeting to conduct regular business, Belmar left the table and the room. That was intentional on Belmar’s part, Price said, to open the floor for more candid comments from participants.

Most of the speakers last week said that they hoped for a diverse police chief who will work to solve the specific problems facing North County, including crime and lack of trust between police officers and the public.

“North County is most definitely different than South County,” said Hazelwood Board of Education president Mark Behlmann, joking, “We are the best, no doubt.”

Community policing will be key for the next chief, especially when it comes to the county’s youngest residents, Behlmann noted: “It’s also very valuable for a police chief who knows how to deal with children. That person needs to be in tune with the youth.”

Referencing Doyle, if not by name, Behlmann concluded, “That’s the type of person our community needs.”

Greg Porter of the North County Problem Solving Committee said that an internal candidate would be best equipped to know St. Louis and solve some of those problems the title of his organization refers to.

“We need someone who understands the many issues facing St. Louis County today, such as the decline of some neighborhoods,” he said.

Joking that North County is really “Narth County” in St. Louis parlance, St. Louis County NAACP John Bowman said the fact that the police board opened up the comment process is a good sign for the chief selection.

“We are very hopeful with this profound change,” he said, but he called for commissioners to open up the process even more by publicizing the search criteria and allowing citizens to ask questions directly to the candidates, as has been done in St. Louis city with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Rev. Phil Duvall, who serves on the county’s Justice Services Advisory Board, said qualifications “are things we can find on paper, but it doesn’t speak to what is in your mind academically.”

He wants police board members to read the 2015 Police Executive Research Forum report on the county department, along with the Ferguson Report’s action items and the post-Ferguson review from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“It’s like preaching the same sermon with the same amens,” Duvall said of the reports, and as far as building trust, “When they do something wrong, don’t send the public affairs guy… Bring the leadership.”

“Reverend, can we be sure to have your prayers to guide us?” Price asked Duvall.

Duvall said yes.