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Chief John Hayden is 30-year St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department veteran

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden most recently served the department as commander of the city's North Patrol Division. | photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

January 10, 2018
Call it "Hayden's Rectangle," the part of North St. Louis between Vandeventer Avenue and Goodfellow Boulevard and West Florissant Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

"Invariably and historically, that rectangle has been very violent over the years," said new St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden. That's where he hopes to pour in resources to cut the number of violent deaths.

Those would include police mobile reserve and anti-crime units, school visits, community meetings and community outreach.

"When I encounter a bad character that wants to turn his life around, some of those social resources can help me," he said.

The 30-year police department veteran took on the assignment at the end of 2017. That's when Mayor Lyda Krewson and Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards appointed him to fill the vacancy created after former Chief Sam Dotson parted ways soon after Krewson's election in April. Hayden was one of six finalists for the job, three local and three from elsewhere.

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden. |photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

"John Hayden has served St. Louis with honor and distinction for 30 years," the mayor said in a statement. "He has a great track record building trust in the communities in which he's served."

Hayden, 55, said the appointment was a "humbling, blessed honor." He keeps a Bible in a prominent place in his office and considers his job a ministry.

Hayden has been lieutenant, captain and major in 2015. Most recently, he was commander of the department's North Patrol Division. He commanded the Internal Affairs Division between 2006 and 2013.

In a wide-ranging interview at police headquarters, Hayden talked about living in the Central West End, adding more officers to an understaffed department and the uneasy relationship between blacks and whites in the department. He also spoke about his own encounters with police while he was growing up in North St. Louis.

Right now, Hayden said, the police department is 115 officers short of what it should be.

"Our attrition rate and our hiring rates are equal," he said. As soon as a class graduates from the police academy, others retire. "I want to encourage young men and women like I was when I was 24 and say, 'Hey, you know what, I can be a policeman,'" he said.

|photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Hayden, whose official title is police commissioner, will earn $153,000 a year. He will be in charge of a department with a yearly budget of $170 million, of 1,300 sworn officers and 400 civilian employees.

Hayden, 55, holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Washington University, a master's degree in management from Fontbonne University, and has earned more than half of the credits required for a law degree from St. Louis University School of Law.

Hayden has lived in the Central West End since 1992.

"I chose to live there because I like the houses," he said.

Hayden said he likes the elaborate camera system in the Central West End financed by a special taxing district. The same thing could be done on the North Side, he said.

Joyful Sounds
Hayden also said the tension between black and white officers is probably the worst he's seen. Dialogue and training could help ease that tension, he said.

He spoke of meetings he's attended where women got emotional about allegations of police violence against blacks.

"They were literally crying, saying they're scared of sending (their) kid out to a game," he said.

When he was in high school, Hayden's father told him to be very respectful of police.

"I said 'I know my rights.' He'd say, 'I'm not talking about your rights. I don't want you getting your butt kicked.' There was no fear that I wouldn't come back. He just thought that maybe a smart mouth might get me popped in the mouth. But he was not afraid that I wasn't going to come home."

Twenty-Eighth Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro said she met Chief Hayden when he was a major and found him to be attentive and a pleasure to work with.

"He has a good reputation within the department and I am optimistic that he will address seriously recent concerns about police accountability and community policing," she said in a statement.

In another statement, Ed Clark, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, praised the choice.

"Chief Hayden is widely regarded as a no-nonsense leader who is tough but fair; smart but compassionate," Clark said.

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