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Hayden to take on 'blessed challenge' as chief of St. Louis police department

Chief John Hayden said police believed the rash of killings over the weekend  to be drug related in a press conference on Monday.
File photo | Wiley Price | St. Louis American
John Hayden was picked on Thursday, to be St. Louis' next police chief. Hayden is a 30-year veteran of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Public safety director Jimmie Edwards stands beside him.

Updated Dec. 28 at 2:45 p.m. with additional comments on Hayden's promotion — St. Louis Police Maj. John Hayden is the next chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Mayor Lyda Krewson made the announcement Thursday at a news conference. The city's public safety director, Jimmie Edwards, made the final decision to select Hayden, who currently commands the department's North Patrol Division. Hayden, a 30-year veteran of the police department, was endorsed by the Ethical Society of Police. His appointment is effective immediately. 

“I bring my love for the city,” said Hayden, as he accepted the position. "It is certainly a privilege that I do not take lightly. And I pledge to do everything within my power to fulfill your and the citizens’ expectations.”

As chief, Hayden will earn $153,000 a year. He will be in charge of a department of 1,300 sworn officers and 400 civilian employees, with a yearly budget of $170 million.

"I spent the past 30 years of my life on this police department," Hayden said. "I believe my love for this city, my experience, my work ethics and my pursuit of excellence will serve me well in my new role as chief of police."

Haydenwas one of six candidates, three of whom  were local. Lawrence O'Toole, who served as the city's interim police chief after Sam Doston's departure in April, was also among the local finalists. Two outside competitors hailed from Texas, and another from Oklahoma. SLMPD Capt. Mary Edwards-Fears was the only woman among the finalists. 

"Many of you thought we were taking too long to find a new chief," said Krewson, in reference to the months-long search for Dotson's replacement. "Our thought has always been we'll take as long as it takes to get it right. And today we got it right with the selection of John Hayden."

Hayden's selection comes at a time of challenges for the police department. There had been 203 homicides in the city as of Dec. 22, the most since 1995, and more than 1,000 non-fatal shootings.

"Violent crime has always been a challenge for us," Hayden said. "And so, we're really going to work closely with neighbors. We're going to work closely with our officers. ... And we really want to do something that's going to have a meaningful impact and direct impact on crime reduction."

Hayden is also coming into his new position after a wave of protests after a judge acquitted former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley is white, while Smith was black.

Under O’Toole’s watch, the city's police department is facing a federal civil rights investigation for the way it handled Stockley verdict protests. A federal judge has already ordered the department to make significant changes to its policing tactics.

"There were some things that we thought worked well during the protests, and there were some things that obviously didn't work well as we would have liked," Hayden said.  "And so, we're hoping to have a clear response to protests — as well as working with protesters to get their input as well."

The community reacts

Activists like Bruce Franks breathed a sigh of relief that Krewson and Edwards did not kept O'Toole in the job permanently.

"I'm pleased that the mayor didn't go with what we see as the same old, same old," said Franks, who is a Democratic state representative from St. Louis. "Even though Chief Hayden has been here, it's not O'Toole."

Hayden promised to get officers into higher-crime areas of the city more than they already are. While in North Patrol, he would bring a mobile office to corners with a lot of drug dealing or other issues, and just sit there, listening to neighbors. He plans to recreate that citywide.

Franks said Hayden's pledge to spend more time in communities that might not trust the police resonated with him.

"When they trust the police department, then they can start effectively standing for their communities in other matters and other ways. I think that also comes with accountability though," he said.

John Chasnoff, the co-chair of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, was also relieved that O'Toole was not the pick. 

"Chief Hayden has a reputation of being a fair and decent person," Chasnoff said. "But his response on community policing was tepid. It's great to build trust in the community, and that's an important part of law enforcement. But what I heard from him was that you want to do that so you get further information so you can arrest more people. And I think true community policing moves away from this arrest and incarcerate model that we've been stuck in for so long."

Hayden's fellow officers also praised his promotion.

"The rank-and-file holds Chief Hayden in high regard, and he has consistently shown a great deal of respect for our members and the union," said St. Louis Police Officers Association President Ed Clark. "This is a man we know we can work with. We also know that his selection will go a long way in restoring the community's trust in the police department."

Hayden had been endorsed by the Ethical Society of Police, which advocates for officers of color in the department.

"We believe Chief Hayden is the right choice based on his documented history of being morally grounded and holding all officers accountable," the Ethical Society board said in a statement. "Hayden is also a strong proponent of Community Oriented Policing and understands the importance of building broken relationships with our community. We will support Chief Hayden, but we will also hold him accountable for our community and our officers just like we've held previous chiefs accountable."

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a statement that he looked forward to working with Hayden on "protecting and serving the St. Louis region."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Kae Petrin: @kmaepetrin

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.