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St. Louis County names first-ever female police chief

A veteran St. Louis County police captain was named to lead the department, becoming the county’s first female police chief.

The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners chose Mary Barton to replace the retiring Jon Belmar. Barton, currently precinct commander for the western part of the county, was chosen from a field of eight internal applicants. She’s been with the department since 1978.

Mary Barton

Mary Barton

Police Board Chairman William Ray Price Jr. said the board moved quickly to fill the vacancy created when Belmar, 56, announced his retirement in February. He remains in the job through April 30.

“The Department needs consistent and steady leadership as it deals with COVID-19 and the other challenges facing all police departments in this nation,” Price said in a statement.

Belmar led the department, one of Missouri’s largest with 1,362 employees, since January 2014.

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 and awarded him $20 million, but a settlement reached in February calls for Wildhaber to receive $10.25 million.

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.

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