St Louis News

Kenneth Gregory Becomes First Black St. Louis County Police Chief

click to enlarge Kenneth Gregory, left, will be the new Chief of Police. - DOYLE MURPHY

  • Kenneth Gregory, left, will be the new Chief of Police.

St. Louis County has a new Chief of Police: Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory.

In a press release, the St. Louis County Police Department announced the news that the Board of Police Commissioners selected Gregory as the tenth chief to lead the department. He is the first Black police chief in the department’s 66 years of operation. Gregory has served as acting Chief of Police since Mary Barton exited the department on July 30, 2021.

Gregory, who has served as interim chief for last six months, worked collaboratively with the board “on both day-to-day operational matters and long-range strategic decisions,” the commission said in a press release announcing the selection. The board said its members were impressed by the acting chief’s decision-making process, community engagement, collaborative leadership style and his abilities to convert department issues into “concrete action items.”

The board has confidence in Gregory’s “abilities to work collaboratively, strive for improvement, and protect the Department’s successes and achievements,” according to its statement.

“Although we tasked him with stabilizing the organization, the Department has not only stabilized but grown in a positive direction under his command,” the press release read. “Thus, the Board determined it is in the best interest of the Department and the St. Louis Community to place Chief Gregory at the helm.”

Gregory has worked for St. Louis County Police Department since 1979. - COURTESY ST. LOUIS POLICE DEPARTMENT

  • Courtesy St. Louis Police Department
  • Gregory has worked for St. Louis County Police Department since 1979.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page offered his congratulations to Gregory on Twitter. The Ethical Society of Police, which had raised public criticism of Barton’s leadership before her resignation, said on Tuesday that Gregory “brings an abundance of institutional knowledge to the position.”

“We look forward to working collaboratively to dismantle many practices and policies that have created barriers to employment for minorities and damaged relationships within marginalized communities,” the Ethical Society’s statement read.

The St. Louis County Police Department revealed on Twitter that the person who hired Gregory, Col. Gil Kleinknecht, “got to watch Gregory take his old job.”

Gregory has been at the police department since 1979 in various roles, with his most recent position as Deputy Chief in 2018. In 2020, Gregory was beat out by Barton in the police chief race after Col. Jon Belmar retired. Gregory served under Barton, the first female chief of police, until her exit; Barton was chief for fifteen months, but resigned after allegations of racism, and then accused the county of discrimination itself. The complaint was settled outside of the courts, reaching a settlement of $290,000.

Gregory also was minorly involved in a 2017 lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department where an officer, Sergeant Keith Wildhaber, said he had been blocked from promotions because he’s gay. The lawsuit contained an account of a former executive assistant, who claimed she overheard Gregory citing the Bible to another commander, calling homosexuality an “abomination.”

In his testimony, Gregory denied the claim and said he had never quoted the Bible while on duty. The jury determined they did not believe then-Chief Belmar or the top police when they insisted there wasn’t any homophobia in the department and awarded Wildhaber nearly $20 million. Page also announced he would hire new members of the Board of Commissioners as a result.

Gregory now takes the reins of the second-largest police force in the St. Louis region. On Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners finished their statement saying they look forward to working with the new police chief on continuing to “direct the department into 21st century policing.”

“The safety of the region and the Department is of the utmost importance to this Board, as well as the efforts to cultivate inclusivity and collaboration within our community,” the statement read. “Chief Gregory, the Board and the Department will continue to put the residents of St. Louis County and the St. Louis region and its well-being front and foremost.”

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at [email protected]

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