ST. LOUIS – The tactics to be used by police after the much-publicized City Hall “crime summit” with the governor are becoming clearer. St. Louis police Chief John Hayden says extra officers will target street-corner drug deals in neighborhoods with spiking murder rates, including the areas where nine city children age 16 or younger have been killed since May.
At the same time, Hayden says he’s disappointed and frustrated that many witnesses and neighborhood residents refuse to come forward in the cases, despite rewards of $25,000 each being offered for information in the four cases in which the victims were age 10 or younger.
The case of 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson, who was shot and killed Aug. 23 near Soldan High School, is a prime example of people’s refusing to co-operate with police, Hayden said.
“I thought for sure we’d be much further along on that little girl. There were a lot of people out that night,” said the chief, obviously frustrated. “We’ve had tips, but nothing leading to an arrest. The disappointment I have, along with the community, is that a lot of people know what’s going on, but they’re not being forthcoming with the police.”
“There’s a reluctance to get involved,” he continued. “I think people are more worried about what will happen to them if they assist with the police investigation.”
He also noted that mistrust of police sometimes led to that reluctance, an attitude he finds doubly frustrating. “What are they mistrustful of, that we’re out here trying to solve these murders?” he said.
Responding to those who say they mistrust police and yet demand quicker action on solving the child murders, Hayden said simply, “You can’t have it both ways.”
Appearing on “The Jaco Report,” Hayden also said in the exclusive interview that the first step taken by any new multi-agency task force established by the City Hall “crime summit” would be to pour more police resources into high-crime neighborhoods. That includes extra officers who could be freed up if the Missouri Highway Patrol takes over traffic enforcement duties on the interstates and major streets in the city.
“The officers will focus on open-air drug markets. There’s a direct correlation between places where people are comfortable selling drugs and gun violence,” Hayden said. “Where drugs are being sold openly, there’s always some form of gunfire nearby. So patrol will focus on those open-air drug markets.”
Hayden said that areas where street-corner drug sales were common were also the areas with the highest level of gun violence, and that the vast majority of gun play was usually related to drug activity.
“If I neutralize a prolific drug zone, I’m going to cut down on shootings,” he said. “If you put your resources there, the likelihood of your offsetting shooting that may result in potential murders is much higher.”
Co-operation with state and federal law enforcement, he noted, will also lead to more staffing on top of the extra city police that will be used.
“We buttress that with our SWAT teams, our Mobile Reserve, our Special Assignments, our various units, and we overlay extra manpower from the task force on top of that, in areas where most of the violent crime is happening.”
Hayden said that another meeting among top officials was scheduled in about 10 days, and that that was when the exact plans for the new anti-violent crime task force would be finalized.
Hayden, though, said he didn’t know anything about why St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, both reform prosecutors often at odds with the area’s police union, were not invited to the City Hall gathering that featured him, Gov. Mike Parson and Mayor Lyda Krewson.
“Our emphasis at the meeting was on enforcement,” he said. “As to why the prosecutors weren’t invited, hey, I was just an invited guest there myself.”
Hayden also said the investigation into city police officers for making violent and racist Facebook posts, first revealed by the Northsider/Southsider and The Jaco Report, was near an end and that more information would be announced publicly “soon.”