ST. LOUIS — For the first time since becoming police chief 18 months ago, John Hayden took to social media to weigh in on a spike in violence across the city, and urged repeal of the city’s residency requirement so his department can recruit more officers.
“We’ve had several violent weekends in a row, and this past weekend was no different,” Hayden said in a video the department posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
“It certainly seems that in recent weeks, on many days, we have gone from one shooting scene to the next,” he continued.
Over the past four days, St. Louis police have responded to 19 shootings resulting in 18 victims, including at least four murders, Hayden said. And while homicide numbers dipped last year, they’re up by six, or about 7%, this year over last, to 89, according to the department. Last year’s figures were 28 higher, or about 18% up, over 2014.
The shootings come amid a two-year push by Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration to crack down on criminals, curb violence and shake the city’s reputation as a dangerous town. Just two weeks ago, Hayden said that the department was redoubling efforts to hunt down “nests” of criminal activity — adding officers in affected neighborhoods, increasing the visibility of officers and squad cars citywide, and asking for help from social service organizations to calm potential retaliation.
In Wednesday’s nearly seven-minute video, Hayden identified other techniques: “crime-reduction zones” downtown, in the Dutchtown/Gravois Park area, and in north St. Louis, where police target open-air drug sales; increased camera surveillance; officer foot patrols; and his own efforts to drop in on neighborhoods to talk with residents.
“When folks are uncomfortable with coming to us, we go to them,” he said.
He also pleaded for more officers. The department, he said, has 147 fewer than the 1,328 it is authorized to employ. Since January 2018 when Hayden became chief, the department has graduated 123 new officers but has lost 125 through attrition, he said.
“We need a much larger applicant pool in short order, which I believe will only come by way of the repeal of the residency requirement,” he said.
Recent efforts to get around city residency requirements, however, have failed. Krewson promised to waive it for 50 new officers — but only two expressed interest, and the department said neither qualified.
Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said waiving residency rules alone won’t increase the applicant pool.
“It will come from lifting residency and paying a competitive wage,” Roorda said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
Meanwhile, residents are fed up with city crime, said 3rd Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley.
“The general public feels like not enough is being done,” Bosley said. “And I can understand their mindset. The community is pointing a finger at those in public office and those who wear a badge.”
On Saturday, Antwon Kincade III, 19, was found shot multiple times in broad daylight on a sidewalk in the 5300 block of Patton Avenue. He lived in Bosley’s ward. No arrests have been made.
Hayden said motives behind the weekend’s homicides were consistent with past murders. In the city, at least half of all murders are drug-related; 35 percent “involve personal disputes, some of which are over drugs;” and 15 percent are domestic, Hayden said. Over the past four days, two of the homicides in the city appear to have been drug-related, and two others appear to have been centered around personal disputes, Hayden added.
The chief also touched on the shooting deaths of children. Three shooting victims in recent weeks were what Hayden referred to as “toddlers, age 3 to 6 years old.” In one of those deaths, 3-year-old Kennedi Powell was killed June 9 in a drive-by attack in the 4600 block of Michigan Avenue. A 6-year-old neighbor girl was critically hurt.
Five miles from police headquarters, on a street in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of south St. Louis, Kennedi’s paternal grandmother, Tracy Wafford, said she was confident the case will be solved, and supported Hayden.
“As long as he’s doing his job, he’s fine with me,” she said.
Forty people have been arrested for murder this year or are wanted in connection with a homicide, Hayden said.
That homicide arrest rate, of less than 50 percent, has been typical for St. Louis in recent years. Despite a nationwide drop in violence to historic lows, 34 of the nation’s largest cities, including St. Louis, have a lower homicide arrest rate now than a decade ago, according to a Washington Post analysis published last summer.
Kennedi’s father, DeVation Powell, 28, knows the odds are against him.
Powell said detectives have been in touch with Kennedi’s mother a lot since the slaying, so he gives them good marks on communication.
But Powell was less enthusiastic that police will capture the killer — so he is doing his own detective work to learn the identity of the gunmen. Powell said it boils down to listening to talk on the street.
“That’s what I’m working on now,” Powell said. “I know a little bit of everybody. They’re not going to talk to them (detectives). I’ve got a lot of friends who will tell me, because they don’t agree with this.”
He’ll alert police if he gets a name, he said. And he hopes they solve his daughter’s murder. But he also knows they are swamped.
“Crimes happen every day,” Powell said. “There’s probably a crime happening right now.”