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St. Louis County Police Commissioners welcomes first African-American woman to the board

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CLAYTON, Mo. – Diversity was the focus of the day for the new St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners’ first meeting. Not only are women the majority for the first time but the board also has its first African-American woman serving.

The new board’s make up is about as diverse as one could imagine.

Chairman William Ray Price Jr. was the longest-serving member of the Missouri Supreme Court.

Dr. Laurie Punch is a surgeon who’s specialized in gun violence. She’s also openly identified as gender-queer.

“It’s not my whole identity. I do identify as gender-queer and I also have a multi-racial background,” she said. “I am excited to bring that context because I think we too often put people in categories that don’t really serve us. I think I have an ability to see what we share in common because who I am is not one or the other; it’s all.”

Rev Phillip Duvall added: “That’s what is exciting; that you have such a diverse board. You also have such an intelligent board.”

Rev. Duvall warned the board to back their promises with action.

“There needs to be change in how they reach out to the community and that’s really my warning,” he said. “Trust and legitimacy is real and there is such a disconnect between the community and police – it’s time to improve that.”

Chairman Price promised action with the promotion of Keith Wildhaber from sergeant to lieutenant. He’ll head the county police department’s new diversity and inclusion unit. Wildhaber declined to talk on camera as the county is appealing a $20 million verdict he recently won for discrimination over his sexual orientation.

Wildhaber thanked his fellow officers at Thursday’s ceremony announcing his promotion.

Chief Jon Belmar said they’re looking for guidance from St. Louis Fortune 500 companies who have similar diversity and inclusion departments. He said it’s new for police departments.

Dr. Punch emphasized action over words. She said that will take “listening.”

“That is my job 24-7 as a physician. I’m constantly in a position where if I don’t hear what my patient is saying, I cannot deliver what they need. I am used to that. This is easier than making rounds,” she said.

County police also announced its new body camera program, which includes not only the ability for command staff to almost immediately review videos remotely, but the cameras can also be activated remotely. They can also activate automatically if they detect a change in behavior from the officer – like evidence he or she has fallen – or is suddenly running.

Nearly 500 cameras were activated this month.

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