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Aldermen offer support to Hayden, Edwards for their crime-fighting plans

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
Jimmie Edwards watches as John Hayden speaks on Dec. 28, 2017 after being named the chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

A plan by the top two public safety officials in St. Louis to battle crime by directing more resources to higher-crime areas has the backing of aldermen on the public safety committee.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden and public safety director Jimmie Edwards spent more than two hours addressing questions from committee members on Wednesday. Both pledged to come before the committee as often as needed to update its members on the progress of the plans, but asked for help from the lawmakers as well to meet their goals.

“Public safety in the city of St. Louis is not just my responsibility, or our commissioner’s responsibility. Public safety is the responsibility of all of us, and all of our citizens,” Edwards said. “My job, as I see it, is to set policy.”

The policy touted by Edwards and Hayden is simple — put more police attention in the higher-crime areas of the city, mostly in a rectangle bordered  by Goodfellow Boulevard, West Florissant Avenue, Vandeventer Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

“When you see the multiple shootings, a lot of that is connected to drug activity,” Hayden said. “Within that rectangle, we will be focusing on places that have been notorious for open drug sales.”

Both men said they would be asking members of special units to spend more time on the streets in that rectangle, rather than waiting for a call from headquarters. Those additional officers will be urged to enforce lower-level crimes, like speeding and expired tags. Edwards and Hayden also want to boost the number of cameras and other surveillance devices across the city.

“I suspect that if we start to pull those types of cars over, we’ll find that in many instances they’re stolen, we’ll find weapons inside of those cars,” Edwards said. “We have to be concerned about the big things, but we have to be just as concerned about the little things all over our city.”

The department is aware officers will be walking a fine line between enforcing quality-of-life crimes and over-policing a part of the city, Hayden said.

“The non-enforcement piece is community policing,” the chief said. “It’s about going into schools and trying to change some of the mindsets of kids that think the only way they can make money is through drug sales.” Hayden has pledged to expand citywide a neighborhood corner office he used while the commander of North Patrol.

Aldermen seemed generally supportive of the ideas.

“What I was heard was very encouraging,” said Ald. Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward and the chair of the public safety committee. “They spoke in areas of sensitivity that we hadn’t heard in this way before that this committee has talked about for some time,” like the right way to deploy officers throughout the city.

Several aldermen, including Kennedy, said they were concerned about a 2014 plan that reduced the number of police districts from nine to six. Edwards and Hayden said they would review those new boundaries.

Also on Wednesday, Edwards backed a plan to give the board that reviews police discipline cases subpoena power.

“I think subpoena power is something that the oversight board needs,” Edwards said. “We should give the oversight board an opportunity to receive documents as well as to perhaps even take some kind of testimony.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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