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Building trust, combating violent crime among top priorities for St. Louis police chief

File photo | Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Police Chief John Hayden responded to a wide range of questions from host Don Marsh and from listeners during Monday’s talk show.";

St. Louis began 2018 with a brand-new police chief, John Hayden, in place – and with a double homicide occurring on New Year’s Day. Three months later, the city’s high rate of violent crime remains a key challenge along with the need to rebuild trust with citizens in the wake of protests.

Both issues loomed large on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air as Hayden discussed his leadership of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department thus far.

“I think that law enforcement across the country realizes that an over-focus on statistics really lacks the personal touch that you want, and so I’m requiring the captains of the districts to actually come up with community-outreach schedules,” Hayden told host Don Marsh. “We’re spending a lot more time in the community, we’re spending a lot more time in schools, we’re spending a lot more time out of the police car. And I’m hoping to bridge that gap.”

Along with relationship-building across all ages, Hayden emphasized the need to funnel more civic resources to specific geographic areas that are struggling most with crime.

Among the 40 homicides taking place within city limits this year, 21 appear to have been drug-related, five of them were domestic and four were “about personal vendettas.”

“Some of it is [police] visibility,” he said when asked about combating the issue, “but also some of it is about [providing alternative] choices … We don’t do social work, but we can be that spoke that brings social resources to some of those distressed areas in hopes that it will indirectly affect violent crime by providing more opportunities – education, jobs and things like that.”

Hayden responded to questions about police accountability, ranging from abuse of overtime pay and treatment of protesters during demonstrations last fall to the handling of officer-involved shootings. In Hayden’s view, investigations of the latter are best done in-house despite the criticism of such policies.

“I’m very much in favor of putting it together within the agency,” he said, adding that the department has “a lot more technology to help investigate officer-involved shootings.”

“It’s just a matter of whether or not people trust us,” Hayden said. “I spent six years in the internal affairs division, and part of that was looking into and investigating officer-involved shootings. And I wouldn’t be ashamed to share the things that I looked into and the decisions I made around it. And so I think that there’s such a thing as an organization doing an investigation and have it open for review for the appropriate entities.”

He also touched on the student-driven #NeverAgain movement in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as the notion of arming teachers.

“I think arming teachers is a bad idea,” Hayden said. “My mom was a schoolteacher for 35 years. She’d be deathly afraid of having a gun, and so you’ve got to ask yourself what happens to teachers who don’t want to be armed. Does that affect their desire to educate children? And I’ve heard many teachers say, ‘Hey, where would I put a gun, and then do I make the situation more dangerous by having it in there in the meantime around kids?’ It just sounds like a recipe for destruction.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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