Former St. Louis police chief gets spot in Nixon's cabinet, leading public safety

2014-08-28T00:15:00Z 2015-03-03T13:47:47Z Former St. Louis police chief gets spot in Nixon's cabinet, leading public safetyBy Paul Hampel 314-340-8104 and Virginia Young 573-556-6181

ST. LOUIS   •   Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday named former St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom to join his cabinet as director of public safety.

Isom replaced Jerry Lee, who had led the Missouri Department of Public Safety since 2011.

In a press conference at the Wainwright State Office Building, Nixon described Isom as a “tough, smart cop” with “unquestioned integrity.”

“Chief Isom's experience as a top level manager, front line police officer and highly-regarded expert in the field make him uniquely qualified to lead the department of public safety,” Nixon said.

Isom's appointment becomes effective Sept. 1.

With the appointment, Isom became the only African-American member of the governor's Cabinet.

In accepting the position, Isom said, “Protecting the public is one of the most fundamental obligations of a government and it is why I am very honored to take this role.”

Isom left the police department in October 2012 to teach at his alma mater, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he earned a doctorate in criminology*. He had been chief for about four years.

Lee retired in 2009 after 38 years with St. Louis County police and five as chief. In August 2010, Nixon appointed him to the five-member board that oversees the St. Louis Police Department.

Nixon said Lee had decided to retire from state service and saluted the outgoing director on “a distinguished, 42-year career dedicated to keeping our community safe ”

Asked if any friction between the governor and Lee had precipitated Isom's appointment, Nixon said, “No,” and that Lee had retired of his own accord. He added, “I was proud to have (Jerry) join the cabinet...We all knew he would do a good job and he performed very, very well.”

Nixon refused to take additional questions. Lee could not be reached for comment.

Isom also acknowledged Lee in his remarks, describing him as “a long friend of mine who I have worked closely with through the years.”

The public safety director oversees the Missouri Highway Patrol and the National Guard, among other agencies. The director also guide's the state's response to natural disasters, and coordinates Homeland Security activities with federal officials.

Nixon named the Highway Patrol to direct security in Ferguson after several days of unrest in Ferguson, replacing St. Louis County police, whom he had criticized for their so-called “militarized” response to demonstrations. He later called in the National Guard to protect the police command center from protesters.

Nixon said that the recent turmoil in Ferguson would not immediately be Isom's focus.

“Our focus is really on getting the right person in charge ... and making sure the director appreciates the full range of responsibilities he has taken on and the broad reach of that department,” Nixon said.

He added, “I'm not predicting it, but we could have a tornado tomorrow.”

Before Wednesday, the only previous African-American cabinet member Nixon had appointed since taking office in 2009 was former Commissioner of Administration Kelvin Simmons. He left the administration in February 2012.

The governor has faced criticism since then for not having an African-American in his cabinet.

Asked if Isom's race played a role in the appointment, Nixon would only say that he was committed to government that “reflected the citizenship of the state.”

*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Isom had earned his doctorate. 

Virginia Young is the Jefferson City bureau chief of the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on twitter at @virginiayoung.

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