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Krewson's backers, foes hail appointment of long-time judge to lead public safety

St. Louis Circuit Judge Jimmie Edwards talks to reporters on Friday after being appointed as the city's public safety director.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Judge Jimmie Edwards talks to reporters on Friday after being appointed as the city's public safety director.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson selected a nationally-renowned judge to head the city’s public safety agency, which oversees the police and fire departments.

Judge Jimmie Edwards’ appointment drew widespread praise, including from elected officials who have been supportive of the protests over former police officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal of first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Edwards has been a circuit court judge for roughly 25 years. He was profiled in People magazine for his role in founding Innovative Concept Academy, a school for children who have run afoul of the law. In his new role, Edwards will oversee the city’s police, fire, building inspection and corrections departments — which have roughly 3,350 city employees.


“I’ve seen the very worst of our city. I’ve seen the very best of our city,” said Edwards during an impromptu news conference at a downtown hotel. “And so, I’m up to any challenge. There’s nothing that I believe I’m confronted with at this time that would make me second think of taking the position of public safety director.”

Edwards replaces Charlene Dekeen. She was effectively serving in an interim capacity as Krewson searched for a permanent replacement for Richard Gray, who Krewson said retired a few months ago.

Krewson said Edwards will play a major role in finding a permanent replacement for former St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who resigned in April. Lawrence O’Toole has served as interim chief, and demonstrators have criticized how he’s handled protests since Stockley’s acquittal.

“I think there is no one better suited in this community to take on the challenges of public safety,” Krewson said.

Members of the Board of Aldermen praised Krewson for selecting Edwards — including elected officials who have disagreed with the mayor in recent months.

“I think that Judge Edwards has really proven himself to understand what wholistic public safety looks like beyond just an ‘arrest and incarcerate’ model,” said Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward. “I see somebody like Judge Edwards that would be working with the Department of Health and Human Services in recognizing that we can’t just look at public safety in a vacuum.”

At least two people who ran against Krewson for mayor, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, also gave their backing for Edward’s appointment.

“I think he comes with a very well rounded set of experiences: Life experiences, technical experiences legal experiences,” Boyd said. “I’m really excited about it.”

With St. Louis’ police department under heavy scrutiny since the Stockley decision, Edwards said he’s not afraid to help facilitate major changes.

“When there’s calm, I think we’ll have the ability to talk. When folks are yelling and screaming, nobody listens,” he said. “I am ready for this challenge. I think together, we can make a difference. I mean, I am law and order. I spent 25 years supporting police officers. And I intend to support police officers. But at the same time, I understand that sometimes they don’t get it right. And when they don’t get it right, we need to correct it.”

Board wants O’Toole to talk

Meanwhile, members of the Board of Aldermen approved by voice vote a resolution calling for Interim Police Chief O’Toole to appear before the public safety committee.

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said she wants to question O’Toole about police department practices in response to protesters. That includes why police decided to arrest more than 100 people in downtown St. Louis in mid-September.

“We’re representative of our communities,” said Tyus, D-1st Ward. “So, we ask the questions for our community that they want to be asked.”

While Tyus’ resolution passed out of the public safety committee by an overwhelming margin, it did elicit opposition from Alderman Joe Vacarro.

“If you ask me, it was a stunt,” said Vacarro, D-23rd Ward. “I stand in opposition to this only because we don’t need a resolution to get the chief here.”

St. Louis Police Department spokeswoman Schron Jackson said in an e-mail O'Toole hasn't seen Tyus' resolution — and hasn't been invited to appear before the public safety committee.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.