St. Louis picks Delaware chief to lead police department

St. Louis officials have chosen the Wilmington, Delaware, police chief to lead its police department

ByThe Associated Press
December 14, 2022, 3:00 PM

ST. LOUIS -- The police chief of Wilmington, Delaware, who has been nationally recognized for his efforts to reduce gun violence, will become the new chief of the St. Louis police department.

Robert Tracy's appointment was announced Wednesday by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who said she is confident Tracy can help address violence in the city with consistently one of the highest homicide rates in the country.

“Chief Tracy has a proven track record of reducing violent crime and has done so in multiple cities and I believe he can do it here,” Jones said.

Jones said Tracy will be the first police chief selected from outside the St. Louis police department. He will begin his new job on Jan. 9.

Tracy, 58, has worked in law enforcement for nearly 40 years. Before being named chief in Wilmington in 2017, he worked in the Chicago and New York police departments.

When asked about a plan to reduce violent crime, Tracy said his first step will be to sit down with department leaders, union representatives, and police officers to assess what the city’s needs are.

“I promise you there will be a transparent plan that will be out there, but I have to get out and look under the hood to make sure that I see what’s going on and I know the issues that are here,” Tracy said.

The city said in a news release that Wilmington shootings fell by 56% and homicides dropped by 41% in Tracy's first year as police chief.

Former President Donald Trump recognized Tracy during his State of the Union address in 2019 for his work in Wilmington, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“He changed the department," Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki told the Post-Dispatch. "He changed the culture entirely. He’s been a great chief. You can take the number of detractors he has and put it in a thimble, and he’s got an enormous number of supporters because he worked really hard, and he’s reduced crime dramatically.”

But in January, the Wilmington council narrowly passed a resolution declaring no confidence in Tracy, who is white, because of the lack of diversity in the police force, a tense relationship between the department and the city's minority communities and a failure to provide detailed information on officer-involved shootings.

Delaware’s NAACP branch called for Tracy’s resignation after an officer was recorded slamming a suspect’s head into a plexiglass wall during an arrest.

Tracy is taking over a department with about 1,200 officers, 30.49% of which are Black, according to a 2020 report. The city has about 293,000 residents, with 44.8% Black, according to a U.S. Census estimate from July 2021.

St. Louis' police department has a long history of contention with minority officers. In August, Jones — a Black progressive Democrat — signed a bill creating a Division of Civilian Oversight, an independent agency to investigate allegations of police misconduct and use of force incidents.

Three police associations, including one representing minority officers, sued to stop the law, saying parts of the law conflict with the Missouri’s Officers’ Bill of Rights law, which protects officers who are accused of misconduct.

Tracy replaces John Hayden, who planned to retire in February but agreed to stay longer when conflict between the city’s personnel department and the mayor’s office delayed the national search for his replacement.

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