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Q&A: St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden On Violence Prevention In 2020

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says the strategy of directing more police attention and resources to specific areas is working to curb violence in the city.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says the strategy of directing more police attention and resources to specific areas is working to curb violence in the city.

Thursday on St. Louis on the Air, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden defended his crime-fighting strategy in the north St. Louis area known as “Hayden’s Rectangle.”

A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raised questions about how much violent crime originated in the area bordered by Vandeventer, Goodfellow, West Florissant and Dr. Martin Luther King. It found that the rectangle was responsible for at most one-third of the city’s violent crime, rather than two-thirds.

Hayden says the two-thirds statistic is from North Patrol as a whole, and took responsibility for the stats being conflated.

“But at the end of the day, what I chose was an area that clearly had a lot of violence,” he said. "You can say that, ‘Hey, we question whether or not Hayden’s Rectangle is fine-tuned enough,’ but what [the Post-Dispatch] didn’t put in there is that that first year, we had 23 less homicides, 77 less robberies and 113 less aggravated assaults in that area.”

He said the strategy of directing more police attention and resources to specific areas is working. The department recently brought the rectangle strategy to parts of Dutchtown and Downtown, and he said both areas had a decrease in homicides in 2019.

“Of course, we can always tweak and do other things that would get us more bang for our buck, but I think the notion of focusing on zones is something that we’ll stick with, particularly when we’re talking about things that are driven by drugs and those other types of social ills,” Hayden said.

Hayden’s conversation with Sarah Fenske aired Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. Here are other highlights of the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Sarah Fenske: After a brutal 2019, you must have been looking forward to turning the page to a new year and a fresh start. Did you have a sense on New Year’s Day of, ‘Oh boy, here we go again’?

John Hayden: I really did. What happened in the first hours of the new year was very disturbing. Those investigations are very active, and we’re learning some things that we didn’t know on Jan. 1. So, I’m optimistic about arrests in several of those cases. 

Fenske: Have any arrests been made yet?

Hayden: There haven’t been any arrests made yet. There are certainly several persons of interest, and I believe that some of those investigations will be culminating with arrests sometime soon. 

Fenske: Is there anything we know at this point about those killings that might give reassurance to people, that maybe they or their families aren’t at risk of these types of killings?

Hayden: So far each one appears to be rather personal. I know the one that caught most people’s attention would have been the one where there were three people killed at one time. We did recover weapons on that scene, and that could have happened anywhere where the same set of people met. That was event driven. Whatever street that event would have happened on, if the same people would have encountered one another, we’re quite certain the same response would have happened.

Fenske: Alderman Sam Moore’s ward is largely inside that north city rectangle. He told the Post-Dispatch, ‘We need more visibility, and we don’t have it yet. We need our on-duty patrolmen to patrol. ... Criminals know that by the time they commit their crime, police won’t show up, won’t be there.’ If he’s feeling that way even within that rectangle, that seems like a concern. What do you think is going on there?

Hayden: I think what Alderman Moore is feeling is our 135 deficit in officers. We’re 135 officers short; we are increasing our recruiting, but at the same time, if I had all 135 officers that are authorized, that would be 23-24 more officers per district, which would be huge with respect to visibility.

Fenske: What do you think is the biggest impediment at this point to hiring good officers?

Hayden: We have four recruiters. All four will tell you the first thing that comes up when they talk about recruitment is residency. We’re the only department in this region that has [a residency requirement]. I think people want to have the autonomy to live where they want to. People just want to be able to say, ‘Hey, if I’m comfortable with this school district, if I’m comfortable with this parish, or what have you, I just don’t want to be disrupted by some inconvenience.’

Fenske: The aldermen are agitating to get the department split into nine police districts instead of six. How do you feel about that?

Hayden: To spread us thinner than we already are is not going to accomplish what they would hope. I think they want to do it for visibility’s sake. If you have the same number of officers and you spread them thinner, that’s not going to help. Because let's just be honest, there’s not a demand for police presence in some areas and there’s greater demand in others. 

Fenske: What do you see as your biggest goal for the coming months?

Hayden: The biggest goal for the coming months is to see the rate of violence go down. I’m optimistic because we did some things at the middle to the end of the year that I’m really hoping to reap the benefits of in 2020. One is that we joined the taskforce with the ATF — that’s a gun-crime strike force totally focused on shooters. I’m really hoping that’s going to take root, and we’ll get a bunch of folks that have shown a propensity toward shootings to get them off the streets. 

The second thing I’m hoping to reap a lot of benefits from is the [collaboration between the] U.S. Marshals and the police department, another task force. [Last summer,] we arrested some 162 persons, many of whom were violent gang members, violent offenders. We’re hoping some of the behavior that they did in 2019 won’t be able to be possible in 2020. 

Hear Fenske’s entire conversation with Hayden:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.