Greitens' public safety director has message for police, first responders: 'We will have your back'
Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens introduced Sikeston Director of Public Safety and Police Chief Drew Juden to lead the state Department of Public Safety on Monday. St. Louis Fire Department Captain Gregg Favre will be deputy director. Greitens said their job is supporting those in the public safety sector and Juden said he would “have their backs.”
“The mission is to make Missouri a safe state to raise a family and to do so by supporting our law enforcement officers, our firefighters and our first responders, to do so by helping all of us to better understand and heal the divides in our community,” Greitens said.
That message was driven home by the location where the announcement was made: Zisser Tire and Auto Services in Dellwood, one of the many businesses looted and damaged during unrest in 2014. The violence followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, and helped launch a national conversation about officer use of force and police relations with minority communities.
As he did in his campaign, Greitens emphasized his law-and-order approach and leadership, saying he would have gone to the “front lines” in Ferguson to listen to protesters, prevent damage in the community and strongly condemn violence against police officers. In some thinly veiled jabs at his predecessor, term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon, Greitens said he would bring leadership previous politicians failed to provide, which turned Brown’s death and the subsequent unrest from a “tragedy into a disaster” that “humiliated” the state.
Juden, a former president of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and former SWAT commander, reiterated Greitens message.
“The tragedy that happened here in Ferguson will not happen on my watch,” he said. “To my brothers and sisters in the public safety profession, I can promise you from this day forward, we will have your back.”
New DPS deputy director Favre, a member of the St. Louis Fire Department’s command staff and recipient of several awards for heroism and service, said he plans to be “an advocate for those who work on the front lines.”
“They should know that between the chief and I, you have someone at the state level who has run in to burning buildings, who has worked highways in winter storms and who has put on body armor and gone into dangerous situations,” he said. “Responders must know we are committed to you, your families and the oath you’ve taken.”
In their new roles, Juden and Favre will oversee eight agencies and six programs, including licensing of the state’s police officers, administering the Homeland Security program, and giving out public safety grants.
Juden said one of his first priorities will be to “start working with communities and building a rapport between law enforcement, fire service and the communities to make Missouri safer.” He said not only does he have “credibility” within the law enforcement world, but he also has a proven record of reaching out to build relationships.
“The community I come from is 30 percent minority, so I’ve had a lot of experience with that, and we’ve built a lot of bridges,” he said. “We have to get out and build these bridges and have these relationships before something goes wrong; that is the wrong time to be building relationships and trying to fix things, so we have to do it on the front end and we have to be very proactive in our approach.”
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles called the commitment to building relationships with local communities that Greitens, and his public safety selections, emphasized “exciting.” Knowles said he also hopes Greitens’ administration will “change the dynamic in terms of getting good qualified officers into our ranks.”
He said his city’s police department and others have struggled to attract and retain good candidates, in part, because people feel police aren’t supported despite doing a dangerous job.
“Qualified people need to feel supported in law enforcement,” he said. “We expect more and more out of our police every day. We have to have the officers that can live up to that expectation, so we have to recruit the very best. Ferguson as well as many other communities are having that same struggle: getting enough recruits, especially enough recruits to live up to this standard that we hold law enforcement officers to.”
Greitens said he sees the recruitment problem affecting too many police departments across the state. He said he wants to encourage young people to join police departments by making Missouri “a great state to be a law enforcement officer in.” For example, Greitens pledged to create a Blue Alert System, “to alert the public to any attack on a law enforcement officer and bring the full force of justice to bear against anyone who assaults a law enforcement officer.”
He said he also plans to create a police pipeline for those in the armed forces.
“We’re going to work with the military to make sure as our veterans come home and especially as our military police officers come home, that there’s a very clear on-ramp for our veterans into law enforcement into fire safety, so that we can increase the ranks of quality professionals here in the state of Missouri,” he said.
But Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones said he hopes Greitens’ support of local police departments also comes in the way of dollars.
“I would like more of a financial commitment to our police departments here, not just in Dellwood but in North (St. Louis) County,” he said. “I think some of these departments need financial help, whether it’s grants or some kind of financial help from the state.”
Juden said he plans to leverage federal grants to bring in money for departments across the state and to do some innovative programming. That may include setting a standard of training for fire departments in Missouri.
“You don’t have to have any certain level of training to ride a fire truck,” he said, while saying most agencies do a good job of training. “My barber cuts my hair and he has to have 1,200 hours of training, so that’s going to be one of the first things I address is that training need and build that training need up and try to get some training so that everybody has to have at least a basic start level of training.”
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