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POST-DISPATCH: Newest members to lead St. Louis County police board

Newest members to lead St. Louis County police board

The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners will be chaired by two new members appointed to the panel in a shakeup following a $20 million verdict against the police department in a discrimination case.

The five-member commission voted Monday to name retired judge William Ray Price Jr. as chairman and Michelle Schwerin, an attorney and CPA, as vice chairman of the board, which has powers that include hiring and firing the police chief.

Price, who served two terms as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and also served as a member of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, said after the meeting Monday that serving as chairman is an honor.

“We’ll do the best job we can to give the citizens of St. Louis County a police department that they can be proud of,” he said.

The remaining three board members — Mark Gaertner, Lawrence Wooten and Art Johnson — are serving on expired terms and could also be replaced soon.

Two additional appointees Page announced Nov. 14, Thomasina Hassler and Dr. Laurie Punch, could be confirmed by the St. Louis County Council at hearings Tuesday.

Page is interviewing prospective nominees for the remaining commission seat but doesn’t expect to announce a nominee until Jan. 1 at the earliest, spokesman Doug Moore said Monday. He said Page considers Price a “good choice” for chairman because he “is experienced and knowledgeable.”

Monday was Price and Schwerin’s first meeting as members of the board. In addition to hearing regular updates on crime statistics, they were briefed by police commanders on the department’s different divisions and their duties. The commission later voted to go into a closed-door meeting and then returned to elect Price and Schwerin to leadership positions.

Following the verdict, the commission said it would hire an outside firm to review the department’s policies and procedures as well as form a diversity committee.

Carl Becker, commander of the department’s human resources division, told the commission Monday that he had received several applications from police department employees seeking to be named to the committee.

Belmar has said he also plans to require implicit bias training for officers, as he did after the Ferguson unrest in 2014.

Price said after the meeting that the police department has “the right policies” in place to prevent discrimination against its officers, but that the outside review will help determine whether changes need to be made.

“My understanding is the department has the right policies,” he said. “We just have to make sure that they’re followed by every member of the department, from top to bottom, every day.”

He also said questions about whether the board would consider removing Belmar were “premature.” Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, has called for Belmar to resign, though Page has said he wants Belmar to lead the department through a period of change to come.

“Those are all premature questions right now,” Price said. “There are two new people that are nominated for the board but not yet confirmed. And we really need to wait to see what the board thinks as a whole. This isn’t one person’s decision.

“And I will say that in many ways the chief has done a tremendous job for the people of this county.”

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Saint Louis, MO 63141
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