ST. LOUIS (AP) - The police chief in St. Louis County announced Monday that he is leaving the department, months after his leadership was called into question when a gay officer was awarded $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit.
Jon Belmar, 56, has led the department, one of Missouri's largest with 1,362 employees, since January 2014. He will remain on the job through April when he plans to end his 34-year law enforcement career.
“The dedication, sacrifice, and bravery of those that work for this Department is unmatched," Belmar said in a statement. “The citizens and businesses of St. Louis County deserve nothing but the best, and I firmly believe they receive that from us every day.”
Ray Price, chairman of the county police board, praised Belmar, calling the department “one of the finest" in the country under his leadership.
Belmar drew criticism in October after a jury found that Sgt. Keith Wildhaber had been overlooked nearly two dozen times for promotions because of his sexual orientation. Democratic Councilwoman Lisa Clancy urged Belmar to resign after the jury's massive award for Wildhaber.
County Executive Sam Page, also a Democrat, stood by Belmar but replaced four of the five police board members. Page, in a statement, said Belmar told him a year ago that he was considering retirement in 2020.
“His career is long and accomplished, and I appreciate the work he has done,” Page said.
In December, Belmar announced that Wildhaber was promoted to lieutenant and would lead a new diversity and inclusion unit.
Belmar's tenure was also marked by unrest in Ferguson that followed the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Ferguson officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, was not charged and resigned in November 2014.
But the shooting of the black and unarmed teenager led to months of often violent clashes between demonstrators and police, including St. Louis County officers. Police drew criticism for the military-style response to the protests.
Belmar defended police actions such as using tear gas, noting that officers were sometimes shot at and barraged with rocks and bottles.
Page said he has already begun discussions with the police board on finding a replacement.
By JIM SALTER, Associated Press
The St. Louis County Police Department released the following statement shortly after St. Louis County Executive Sam Page sent the tweet:
“On Monday, February 10, 2020, Colonel Jon M. Belmar, St. Louis County Police Chief, announced his retirement after nearly 34 years of service as a commissioned police officer, with six years as Chief of Police. Chief Belmar’s retirement will commence on April 30, 2020.
"Chief Belmar, who resides in West St. Louis County with his wife, was appointed Chief of Police in January 2014 after working his way up the ranks of the Department. When he was appointed Chief, he was responsible for authorized staff of 853 commissioned police officers and 276 professional staff employees. Since then, the Department has grown to over 1,020 commissioned police officers and 342 professional staff employees. He has led the Department through incredibly difficult times, like the murder of Police Officer Blake Snyder and periods of civil unrest. He has also commanded through tremendous successes, like the passage of Proposition P, Presidential debates, and the 100th PGA Championship.
"'It has been an honor to work with and for the women and men of the St. Louis County Police Department. The dedication, sacrifice, and bravery of those that work for this Department is unmatched. The citizens and businesses of St. Louis County deserve nothing but the best, and I firmly believe they receive that from us every day,' writes Jon Belmar in the statement provided by St. Louis County Police.”
County Executive Page released his own statement Monday afternoon regarding the police chief:
"I have said all along that change begins at the top and it did, with my appointment of 4 new members to the five-member Police Board. I encouraged Chief Belmar to lead the Police Department through the transition and he has. That included creating a new Diversity and Inclusion unit, promoting Keith Wildhaber to lieutenant and having Keith oversee the new unit.
"Belmar shared with me a year ago that he was considering retiring in 2020 so this is the natural course of his plans. His career is long and accomplished, and I appreciate the work he has done.
"The process of changing the Police Department’s leadership will be thoughtful and orderly. I have already begun discussing future leadership with members of the Police Board and I look forward to working with them as the next Police Chief is chosen. This is an opportunity for an open dialogue about the future of the Police Department. I am confident that future will be built on a strong foundation that already exists."