Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NEW COUNTY POLICE CHIEF; Belmar Takes over Department That Is Experiencing Success, Controversy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NEW COUNTY POLICE CHIEF; Belmar Takes over Department That Is Experiencing Success, Controversy

Article excerpt

CLAYTON * From a policing perspective, Jon Belmar says he couldn't have become chief of the St. Louis County Police department at a better time. Crime is at historic lows. National awards hang on the walls. But the timing is complicated when it comes to politics.

The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners named Belmar, 50, the department's eighth Chief of Police after about an hour of deliberations Friday to replace outgoing Chief Tim Fitch.

The department saw crime reductions and achieved policing's highest national awards during Fitch's nearly five-year tenure as top cop. But Belmar also is taking over a department in the middle of at least three criminal investigations that Fitch initiated into members of County Executive Charlie A. Dooley's administration.

"If we can't engage in a solid relationship with county government, it will be difficult to do things for the citizens," Belmar said. "It is a priority for me to positively engage with county government and the county executive's office."

Belmar stopped short of saying he disagreed with Fitch's decisions to initiate investigations involving county government employees and appointees during the past year, which included calling in the FBI twice.

"I hope these things don't happen, but if a policeman understands that a crime has been committed, he'll take the necessary action," Belmar said.

Those complications included Fitch's request for an FBI investigation last year after he discovered that then-police board Chairman Gregory Sansone held a $3.7 million heating and cooling subcontract for a new police crime lab in what appeared to be a violation of the county charter. Sansone denied wrongdoing and resigned from the board in August.

The month before, member Floyd Warmann suddenly resigned, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. Another member, Ray Wagner, left in September because of what he said were personal and professional reasons.

Two men named by Dooley as replacements withdrew their names from consideration. The County Council refused to appoint a third, but did approve the nomination of former Hazelwood Mayor T.R. Carr.

Fitch also has asked the FBI to assist with a forensic audit into the county's awarding of a computer contract to a health department administrator who later committed suicide.

And county police also are investigating whether one of their own officers assigned to Dooley's security detail ran names in the criminal justice database for improper, and possibly illegal, purposes.

Dooley attended Friday's board meeting in which Belmar was named chief.

"It's a great selection," Dooley said. "They had three good persons to chose from. ... I look forward to working with him."

Belmar said he'd like to continue building on several of his predecessor's initiatives, including equipping patrolmen with the opiate-antidote NarCan, opposing speed cameras, boosting minority promotions and hires, and collaborating with the St. Louis police department on efforts such as merging crime statistics.

"Fitch set the bar high when it comes to minority promotions," Belmar told reporters gathered after the meeting Friday. …

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