ST. LOUIS • Circuit Court Judge Jimmie Edwards, known for his commitment to troubled youths, will take over as director of public safety for the city of St. Louis next month.
The city’s public safety director oversees more than 3,500 employees and an operating budget of $340 million. The Public Safety Department is the largest city department and includes the police and fire departments.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced her appointment of Edwards on Friday morning. Her spokesman, Koran Addo, said Edwards would step down from the bench before he was sworn in as the public safety director on Nov. 6.
Edwards attended the annual Mayor’s Business Celebration Luncheon at the Marriott St. Louis Grand hotel downtown Friday. In remarks before the lunch, Edwards said of Krewson: “I highly respect her, but more importantly I love our city.”
Edwards’ appointment comes at a troubled time for St. Louis, as police are being criticized for the way they have handled protests since former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder. The ruling on Stockley’s acquittal was handed down nearly one month ago, on Sept. 15. Stockley was found not guilty in the 2011 fatal shooting of drug suspect Anthony Lamar Smith.
Responding to the recent protests after the Stockley verdict, Edwards said: “I understand that there has been trust gaps in our city with respect to police and the courts and others.”
Listening is a first sign of respect, Edwards said, adding: “I am very interested in calming things down where they’re not so calm.”
Edwards said he’s spent his career supporting police officers and he intends to continue to support police officers. “But at the same time, I understand that sometimes they don’t get it right,” he said. “And when they don’t get it right, then we need to correct that.
“I believe you get nothing at all done when everybody is on the fringe, whether you’re on the fringe on the left or you’re on the fringe on the right,” Edwards continued. “We all have to come to the middle. We have to come to the center in order to correct some of the issues that I believe that we have.”
Krewson said Edwards would have an integral role in selecting the person who will serve as the city’s next police chief, adding: “The charter actually provides for the public safety director to choose the new police chief.”
“I think there is no one better suited in the community to take on the challenges of public safety,” Krewson continued, referring to Edwards’ long tenure as a judge.
“I am thrilled to have him join our really strong team and I think his addition will be really transformational for our city,” Krewson said.
Edwards will earn about $200,000 a year in the full-time post, nearly $70,000 more per year than the mayor. He replaces Charlene Deeken, who made about $70 an hour as a part-time public safety director. She will become deputy director, earning about $46 an hour, Addo said. Richard Gray, who was named public safety director in 2014, retired earlier this year due to health issues, Krewson said.
Edwards, 62, has been a judge in the 22nd Circuit since 1992. From 2007 to 2012, he was administrative judge of the family court and the chief juvenile court judge. He has been honored for his efforts in 2009 to create the Innovative Concept Academy, the first school in the U.S. supervised by a judge and dedicated to educating juvenile delinquents.
State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., who has been active in the protests of the Stockley verdict and called this week for a new public safety director, quickly applauded the selection of Edwards.
“Judge Edwards is a great guy who has done some great things with youth,” Franks said on Twitter. “I hope it translates to accountability and change in Public Safety.”
Addo said finding a new public safety head had been in the works for a while. Krewson has been mayor for six months. A few weeks ago, she approached Edwards to see if he would take over the Public Safety Department.
“He’s just a very respected person,” Addo said of Edwards. “He’s seen it from both sides. He was not a privileged kid growing up.”
Edwards grew up in the now-demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. He told the Post-Dispatch in a 2010 story that he was tired of watching teens under court supervision developing criminal street minds because no school would take them.
Addo said that Edwards, as a judge, had taken “a holistic approach … to be fair and equitable.”
The City Justice Center and the medium-security jail known as the “workhouse” are among the areas under the Public Safety Department’s control. Other divisions in Public Safety include one that oversees liquor licenses and another in charge of building inspections.
Krewson’s announcement comes just two days after she took plenty of heat at a public discussion at Harris-Stowe State University. She was there to answer residents’ questions about policing and racial equity, but the session quickly unraveled when people in the packed auditorium shouted accusations of inaction at the mayor.
One man repeatedly shouted “How long do we have to wait?” as the mayor attempted to respond to questions and complaints.
The panel hosted by St. Louis Young Democrats came weeks after demonstrators began calling for police reform after Stockley’s acquittal. Krewson said during the panel that her office supports some aspects of the group’s policy suggestions, including establishing independent investigations of police use of force, developing community policing standards — especially concerning demonstrations — and giving subpoena power to the civilian oversight board, which reviews complaints against police.
Under Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan, those interested in replacing Edwards will submit their applications to a nonpartisan panel, which will choose three candidates to send to Gov. Eric Greitens. He can choose an applicant from the list. If he doesn’t act in 60 days of getting the list, the panel can choose a replacement.
Jack Suntrup of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this article.