Metrolink camera covering controversy reopens years’ old fight

ST. LOUIS – From accusations of police officers covering surveillance cameras to fears of substandard policing, the political fight over Metrolink has continued for years.

Fox 2 News has exposed problems since 2015, including a report last October detailing a fight between police in St. Louis city and county and Metrolink security.

The recent sensational videos and pictures of St. Louis County officers covering a surveillance camera are new, but the accusations of inaction by police on the Metro are not.

On Monday, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar answered reporters.

“I think it has a lot to do with a power play. They want their own police department, although they assert that they don’t, but they act like they have one,” Belmar said.

The chief said Metro reported one case of a county officer covering a camera back in 2015. He said that officer was transferred. He said no one from Metro reported the problem continued until he read about it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“This is very politically motivated,” he said.

Belmar made it clear in a 2015 letter to Metro that he’s not ok with its security acting as a police force.

This while Metro Chief Richard Zott listed examples of alleged inaction by St. Louis County Officers, writing under the header, “Why we need our own police force.”

Yet Zott went on camera in October and said the following to a Fox 2 news crew: “I don’t think we've ever said we're going to start our own police department. We have to protect our customers. We have to protect our passengers, regardless of anything else and I think the way to do that is to work collaboratively as partners.”

But on Monday, Chief Belmar accused Metro of not being a good partner.

“We outta find veins where we can cooperate together and thus far metro has refused to do that,” Belmar said.

However, an email chain from May 2016 between Zott and St. Louis County’s Metrolink Unit Commander seems to show it’s the county that won’t cooperate.

Zott wrote: “Again, we would suggest pairing county officers with Metro officers to better cover the alignment. I think it makes sense and would act as a 'force multiplier.'”

The St. Louis County police captain wrote back: “I am aware of your past and frequent suggestion for the 'pairing' of County Police Officers with Metro Security Officers. The concept of a formal program such as this has many issues for Bi-State and the St. Louis County Police. The issues have been carefully examined and weighed on our side. At this time, I have not been informed of any change in the current arrangement.”

Sources have told Fox 2 News this battle focuses around St. Louis County’s fear that Metro security could threaten the public because of officers who might come from small municipalities, have troubled histories, and lack training. Meanwhile, Metro sources argue they not only hire licensed officers, but they hire the best and pay them competitively.