Missouri officials criticize police chief for denying racism

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri police chief received criticism from several county officials after denying the existence of systematic racism in the police department.

Mary Barton, the St. Louis County Police Department’s chief, told the County Council Tuesday during a video conference that “to say there’s systemic racism in the police department is overly broad and probably not accurate,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I think that to a certain degree, people believe what they want to believe. And until we sit down and talk about it and can verify or at least ferret out what it is people are talking about, I think to put a label on it is really unfair and shortsighted. ... People not thinking before they speak is a far cry from racism,” Barton continued.

Police Commissioner Dr. LJ Punch told the chief during a Board of Police Commissioners meeting on Wednesday that residents and police officers told the board this year about how “racism is driving disparate outcomes and disparate experiences. And yesterday, I heard language from people in this room which made me think that we don’t have a shared vision … that systemic racism is present even within this department.”.

Many council members questioned whether Barton was capable of leading the department because of her views. But Councilman Mark Harder said Barton was new to the position and that “when you’re brand new to leadership you begin to see the organization from a new perspective.”

Barton was sworn in April after her predecessor, Jon Belmar, retired in the wake of a multimillion-dollar settlement with a gay police sergeant who had been passed up for promotion multiple times.

“Actions speak louder than words, and we need to see what she’s willing to do to investigate allegations and understand her organization better,” Harder noted.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy took to Twitter to express her discontent with the chief’s comments, saying she was “troubled” by what was said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“If the Chief can’t acknowledge the racism in the Police Department, then it seems to me she is missing a big piece of what it means to lead in this critical moment, and thus I’m not confident she has all that is required for the job, Clancy told the newspaper in a text message.