St. Louis police commissioner and chief John Hayden first started doing community outreach by setting a table out in neighborhoods and listening to what residents in the community had to say. Chief Hayden spoke on a panel at Webster’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference on Feb. 28 about issues surrounding the justice department, including how to bridge the trust between the police force and the St. Louis community.
Chief Hayden said during the discussion that the police force has learned that focusing solely on numbers of crimes committed helps widen the gap between the justice department and citizens of the city. Instead, he said he believes personal contact with people helps bring the community back together.
“The philosophy is, if you do non enforcement activities, you build positive relationships with people,” Chief Hayden said. “Let’s say there was some shootings in a certain neighborhood and I went to the public high school to talk to kids about programs about not being involved in gangs. Those non-enforcement events build positive relationship.”
Chief Hayden said once the relationship between the justice department and community members is built, trust will then develop between the two groups.
“We’re hoping that people will see our vision in wanted to be trusted. Not to avoid us, but to realize we gave toys away in this neighborhood and so we are some people that can be trusted,” Chief Hayden said, “And if you trust on on one level, maybe you would potentially help us in some of the things that help get rid of violent crime in your neighborhood.”
Cheyenne Parker is a student that attended the discussion. She said she agrees that a part of solving issues the criminal justice system has begins with the community.
“If he doesn’t know what works for the community and works in the community, then they’re just gonna keep doing things that are wrong and that don’t work for them.” Parker said.
The discussion also brought up topics surrounding the Stockley protests in St. Louis last fall. Chief Hayden said that accountability in the police force must exist in order for the community to start trusting the justice system.
“You have to be open and honest about the communication. If we would have been open and honest years ago, I don’t think [the protest] would have erupted the way it did this fall,” Chief Hayden said. “I think all those things make people think, ‘is that what will happen’ and that’s not how we do it. That’s terrible.”
Dr. Julie Setele moderated the conversation. She said said there are police officers in St. Louis who have had negative interactions with the community and have not been held accountable for their actions. However, she said she feels what Chief Hayden said during the discussion was a step on the right path, and that people in the St. Louis community should continue to hold him accountable.
“He’s saying the right things. I want to see if he then follows through,” Setele said.
Chief Hayden says he hopes his efforts in the community will eventually bring more safety to the St. Louis area.
“Relationship building is what not only helps us solve crime but get some indicators of things that people would only share with people that they trust.” Chief Hayden said, “It improves public safety and I desire to keep people safe.”