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Kelly File

Exclusive: St. Louis County police chief speaks out

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," December 3, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Breaking news coverage continues right now on "The Kelly File" where we are tracking crowds of protesters getting larger and louder this evening after a second grand jury in as many weeks decides it will not indict a white police officer in the death of an African-American man. With marchers shouting about both this case and the decision in Ferguson, Missouri, here you can see them marching on the West Side Highway right here in New York City.

Earlier tonight, the mayor of New York not only encouraged the protests but said this is a problem that's been a long time coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEW YORK CITY MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Just dealing with the problem in 2014 we're not dealing with years of racism leading up to it or decades of racism. We are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: Now in a "Kelly File" exclusive and first TV interview since the Ferguson grand jury decision, St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar. He was one of the first law enforcement officials to comment publicly on this case, and he was in charge of the initial police response to the protests.

Chief, thank you for being here tonight. Your thoughts on that? The mayor of New York has just informed us all that these cases we're seeing in your city and in ours are about racism.

JOHN BELMAR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE CHIEF: You know, Megyn, it's interesting to hear that. I really didn't think that's what it was about the first of August when we looked at that. In fact, at the time it seemed like it might have been pointed towards citizens and police. And then I think eventually the racist theme, the racism that overrides some of the conversations that we had seemed to sneak in. In some ways it probably marginalized what the protesters are trying to get accomplished with these police and community relations.

KELLY: Because when you throw the bomb out there, you are racists, you cops are all racists, you do what any human being would naturally do, which is you back gets up, you get defensive. You can't hear as well. You're worried about defending your integrity and honor.

BELMAR: Well, and frankly, it's counterproductive to dialogue. You know, every time that the race card's thrown out then it's very difficult to be able to establish your position. And it's very difficult to farm those relationships where you say hey, we're the police, we're the 24-hour face of government. We're here for you. But then if we can't get away from this racist beast, then it's very difficult to move forward.

KELLY: All right, so now tonight we're seeing protests in the wake of this grand jury decision here which obviously you don't have anything to do with. But you were in charge of the response I suppose the night of Ferguson where we saw these terrible, you know -- this looting, these arsons, over 70 arrests. Your thoughts tonight, because so far in New York things seem to be more under control -- the problem seems less severe as well. But you've come under fire for not responding more aggressively earlier. Your thoughts on it.

BELMAR: Well, you know, it's a double-edged sword. I came under fire in August for responding perhaps too aggressively. I don't agree with that assessment in August. And then we take a look at Monday night, I know if you remember seeing the police cars burning, I was standing about 50 meters to the south of that, while two of my police cars were burned. We have 400 officers in the ground. We did the best we possibly could. I know those business owners in Ferguson as well as anybody else and it was heartbreaking to see that. We've talked a lot about who to lay the blame on.

But at the end of the day, I think we need to keep in mind that those criminals out there with kerosene, lighter fluid, with matches, they were intent on burning something and they were not going to be stopped until they did that. And then I think when we overlay that with the amount of sporadic gunfire in the area, frankly, it was a very difficult situation for the officers to work under.

KELLY: Yeah. Do you think some of this rhetoric, you know, the mayor of New York coming out and saying this is all about racism, Al Sharpton, his fans, similar flames, and so on, I mean, we've heard quite incendiary charges. Even the congressional black caucus saying there's license to go out and kill black men in the United States now. Black men can be killed with impunity. Is this having a potentially dangerous effect with respect to law enforcement and our communities?

BELMAR: I think it is. Because, you know, it's going to cause a rift at some point that may be very, very difficult for us to come back to. I talked a little earlier, we are the 24/7 face of government here in law enforcement. We are looking to solve problems. We're looking to make sure that people understand that we can't arrest our way out of a problem. We have to have the ability to work with the community.

And I think when we drive that continual mantra of the police are bad and they're not accountable and they're not transparent and different things like that, it's counterproductive to what the police officers out there trying to do across the country because, again, we are the first line of government that people have to depend on. And if we don't have those relationships or they're undermined by folks that seem to have a different agenda, it's going to make this very difficult for everybody.

KELLY: In a word, how did you feel when you heard the grand jury's decision in Ferguson?

BELMAR: You know, I didn't know what to think. I hadn't followed it real close. I tried to stay away from it. I had a different job at the time, as far as preparing for the Ferguson decision either way. I felt like the grand jury had access to a whole lot of information than I did on the case, even though my detectives investigated it. And I feel like that that is our civic process. We have to have the ability to have enough faith in our system. I understand skepticism, but we can't be cynical.

KELLY: Chief Belmar, thanks for being here, sir.

BELMAR: Thank you, Megyn.

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