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Police chief, aldermen clash in committee meeting

CITY HALL – Questions about reorganizing the city police department brought sharp clashes Wednesday between police Chief John Hayden and members of a Board of Aldermen committee.

Twenty-First Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and other members of the Public Safety Committee argued with Hayden over policy including what aldermen said was his failure to provide information about the police department.

In a two-hour meeting, the committee discussed Muhammad’s bill to make the number of districts seven instead of the current six; phase out majors in the department; merge the city police department and the airport police department; and otherwise move police officers from desks to the street.

Speaking in a sharp tone of voice, Hayden said the police department’s informational technology department was unable to provide figures for a while because of commitments to provide information to the federal government. The police department official in charge of IT said the department might not be able to respond until 2021.

This brought angry responses from committee members.

“To say that it takes 18 months, that’s unheard of,” Fifth Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard said. “I’m hearing a lot of excuses, in my opinion.”

Fourteenth Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard agreed.

“The city’s burning, and we can’t get data?” she questioned.

Hayden forcefully denied a rumor that he had told a group of local police officials at a meeting that if the bill passed, he wouldn’t enforce it.

“It’s not true, sir,” he said. “I’m here to serve. I think I have exemplified myself as a public servant.”

The chief also said that some people thought there was a silver bullet for the crime problem. It would mislead the public to say there was a way to stop homicides, he said.

“We’re doing everything we can,” he asserted.

Twenty-Second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said that he had known Hayden before, when he worked in the North Patrol.

Boyd commented, “You’re not the John Hayden I knew when you were in the North Patrol.”

Boyd said that Muhammad’s bill was originally introduced on Sept. 13 and that Hayden had yet to provide information the committee needed to have about it. 

In a presentation to the committee before the discussion, Muhammad said that everybody agreed there was a problem with the structure of police but that there still hadn’t been any changes. 

“We have to do something right now to fix our police department,” Muhammad said. “The board bill puts more police officers on our streets.”

There isn’t a need for one police department at the airport and one for the city, Muhammad argued. 

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro, who chairs the public safety committee, said he was disturbed that there was one major in 2013 and now there were five. Under the bill, they would be eliminated through attrition. 

“The people in my neighborhood are tired of the crime,” Vaccaro said. He said police were not in the neighborhoods.  

After the meeting, Muhammad said the next step was to pass the bill. 

“We reallocate resources in our police department and make sure our department works more effectively with the number of officers that we have now,” he said. “Crime is not our police commissioner’s fault, but the failure to have a comprehensive crime plan is.”

But Jacob Long, the director of communications for Mayor Lyda Krewson, questioned how the city would pay for the changes. He asked where the fiscal note was that normally accompanied bills to explain how much they would cost.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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