Black Ex-Police Chief Picked for Top Enforcement Post in Missouri

John Eligon, New York Times, August 28, 2014

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday nominated a former St. Louis police chief to become the state’s top law enforcement official–and the only African-American in his cabinet–in the wake of racially charged unrest in nearby Ferguson.

The nomination of Daniel Isom II to become the director of the state’s Department of Public Safety came the same day that a police command center in Ferguson was dismantled and the National Guard completed its withdrawal.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the county police will remain in charge of policing the city of 21,000 that became the site of violent clashes between the police and protesters after Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, two and a half weeks ago.

If Dr. Isom is confirmed by the State Senate, he will oversee the Highway Patrol, the National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, Emergency Management and other agencies operating in the state. He would replace Jerry Lee, who is retiring.

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The unrest only highlighted a much deeper, longstanding rift between Mr. Nixon, a Democrat, and blacks, state lawmakers said.

“Over the years, I don’t think any of the white political leadership has been very sensitive to the African-American community,” said State Representative Tommie Pierson, a Democrat who represents St. Louis and is black.

“Unfortunately, it takes something like this to draw attention to that fact,” he added, referring to the unrest in Ferguson. “This draws attention to that and makes them do just what Governor Nixon is doing.”

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Dr. Isom, who has a doctorate in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a master’s in public administration from Saint Louis University, spent 24 years on the St. Louis police force, including four as chief. He left the department two years ago to become a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. When he took over the city’s police department in 2008, it was mired in a towing scandal that cost his predecessor, Joe Mokwa, his job. The department was also reeling from allegations of officers’ planting drugs, stealing money and other misconduct. Dr. Isom received high marks for his performance as chief, and he told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch when he left the post that crime had dropped 30 percent under his watch.

Part of his role as the public safety director will be to work with local police departments.

“We need black leadership in policing of the state,” Mr. Pierson said. “You’ll have somebody who understands you. People who understand you tend to not fear you. White police officers fear us because they don’t understand us, and that’s a problem.”

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed said she would sponsor Dr. Isom’s nomination. While she praised Dr. Isom as “the best pick” for the job, she said that Mr. Nixon might have been politically motivated in his decision.

“It’s a political move to try to calm down the African-American community because of the concerns that they have with him not removing Bob McCulloch,” Ms. Nasheed said, referring to the St. Louis County prosecutor investigating the death of Mr. Brown.

Critics have questioned whether Mr. McCulloch can fairly investigate a police officer in a shooting case, in part because his father was an officer killed in the line of duty and because he had wanted to become an officer himself. {snip}

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Ms. Nasheed said that Dr. Isom’s nomination would not necessarily appease blacks.

“It’s past overdue,” she said. “His cabinet is all white. It was time for him to show a little diversity within his cabinet.”

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