I had the chance to visit in-studio this week with newly appointed St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden and I came away really impressed. I told him when he got the gig that I reached out to more than a half dozen people either connected to law enforcement or current SLMPD officers and every single person came back with rave reviews. I mean these weren’t tepid responses – he’s extremely well-liked, respected and seems like the perfect fit for this important challenge. I’m still not sure why this took so long and cost taxpayers nearly $50,000 for a national search that in the end resulted in a local pick being selected. I think most of us could have wrapped this thing up in about two weeks. Three at the most.
I wished the new Chief well, and I’m hopeful that, along with the city’s new Public Safety Director Judge Jimmy Edwards, they can make a significant dent into the violent crime problem that has only gotten worse in the past few years.
I’m worried that despite their best intentions all this might not make a big difference. Mainly because I don’t think the city has the resources to hire enough cops or to give the current officers the needed compensation bump to stay competitive with the job offers and opportunities in the County. I know Prop P’s passage is going to help quite a bit, but I’m unconvinced that it’s enough.
Here’s something else to consider, NPR this week published an interesting interview with a Baltimore Pastor with ties to St. Louis. Rev. Kinji Scott grew up in East St. Louis and had a brother who was murdered in St. Louis in 2004. NPR reporter Lauren Prayer asks Scott that if in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray case, that he and other activists wanted police to back off here’s his very interesting response:
No. That represented our progressives, our activists, our liberal journalists, our politicians, but it did not represent the overall community. Because we know for a fact that around the time Freddie Gray was killed, we start to see homicides increase. We had five homicides in that neighborhood while we were protesting.
What I wanted to see happen was that people would be able to trust the relationship with our police department so that they would feel more comfortable. We’d have conversations with the police about crime in their neighborhood because they would feel safer. So we wanted the police there. We wanted them engaged in the community. We didn’t want them beating the hell out of us, we didn’t want that.
I asked Chief Hayden about that quote and he agreed that most people in the neighborhoods with the most violence and homicides feel the same way as Rev. Scott and he told me he absolutely believes that’s the case. Later in the same interview mentioned above, Scott also talked about what changes have occurred in the aftermath of the Mike Brown killing in Ferguson and this is what he said:
The primary thrust nationwide is what President Obama wanted to do: focus on building relationships with police departments and major cities where there had been a history of conflict. That hasn’t happened. We don’t see that. I don’t know a city — Baltimore for certain — we’ve not seen any changes in those relationships. What we have seen is that the police has distanced themselves, and the community has distanced themselves even further. So the divide has really intensified, it hasn’t decreased.
And of course we want to delineate the whole culture of bad policing that exists — nobody denies that — but as a result of this, we don’t see the level of policing we need in our community to keep the crime down in our cities that we are seeing bleed to death.
Chief Hayden didn’t want to go that far with me, but I think the Rev. Scott is spot on. I can’t blame officers who don’t want to become the next front page story. But Hayden’s challenge is to not only foster a better relationship with the communities where the murders are occurring, but to also get the support from City Hall and other leaders. Because something eventually is going to blow up, meaning there will be another cop shooting and the protesters will once again be unwilling to listen to the facts and instead simply target the cops. Hayden and Judge Edwards are focused on the same goals, but they have to be able to do their jobs.
Will Mayor Krewson have the guts to support them when the going gets tough? She hasn’t shown such courage so far, instead caving into the protestors demands at the expense of the support of her own officers.
For the sake of our entire region, I hope she does. She needs to stand up to the aforementioned “liberal journalists (LOCAL left leaning newspapers like the Post and RFT) progressives and activists.” Focus on the real issue, and for the 1,345,299nd time, it ain’t cops shooting and killing black people.