On Friday, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden about several critical issues.  Key takeaways include:

Spate of shootings of officers:   Nine on-duty St. Louis officers and one retired captain have been shot since June 1. One officer was killed, and four officers were shot in a single incident while policing a demonstration.  Chief Hayden said the department had never before experienced gunfire attacks during a demonstration, nor had the department experienced major protests regarding incidents that happened in other parts of the country.

Increases in violent crime and homicides: Homicides in St. Louis declined during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but began to rise sharply in June.  Chief Hayden believes that the pandemic has resulted in people being under stress due to job losses and restrictions on activities. Many of the homicides involve people who know each other.

The repeal of the city’s residency rule:   A new state law repeals the residency requirement for police officers and other first responders. Next month, St. Louis voters will decide whether to expand the change to cover all civil service employees, not just police officers and firefighters.   As in other cities, the residency requirement was intended to ensure that city employees are invested in the city where they work, but in Missouri, lawmakers were persuaded by arguments that the rule was hurting St. Louis’s ability to hire police officers. Chief Hayden said that many officers and potential officers had issues with the city’s school system for their children or other objections.

COVID-19’s impact on his department:  The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been impacted by the COVID pandemic, but has taken steps to reduce officers’ potential exposures to the virus.  


Chuck Wexler:   Chief, can you tell us about your agency’s difficult summer?

Chief Hayden: If you include a beloved retired captain, we’ve had 10 officers shot since June 1. Nine have been shot in the line of duty, including one who lost his life.

June 1 was the first day of major George Floyd protests in St. Louis. We probably had 4,000 to 5,000 people who got on the highway, and then came to police headquarters. They threw frozen water bottles and fireworks at us, and doused officers with flammable substances. That night we had four officers down.

They were on the documentation team, and we had drawn a line within a block of the headquarters building. The protesters came there, and we declared an unlawful assembly after they began firing commercial-grade fireworks at the officers. Projectiles were continuously being thrown at officers. After several minutes we made announcements about the unlawful assembly, then had to use various munitions to clear the area. Right in the middle of all that, four officers went down and we realized they had been shot.

I was thankful to be able to report right away that the injuries were not life-threatening. But it’s an unimaginable trauma and terror to have four officers down at one time. We went to the hospital not knowing their condition.  Fortunately, I was able to talk to all four when I got there. On the ride to the hospital, I was thinking that it might be the most tragic day of my entire career.

We had never faced gunfire during a protest before. And we hadn’t faced a major protest over an officer-involved incident that didn’t happen in the St. Louis area. We were prepared to face the worst we had seen, but we hadn’t seen a protest like this before.


On July 26 the department released photos from one of the recent shooting incidents against officers. A suspect was taken into custody.


Wexler: Have the demonstrations calmed down since then?

Chief Hayden:  They had, until the decision in the Louisville case was just announced on September 23. That night and the next night, we had some large protests, but not nearly the number of people we saw on June 1. There were a couple hundred people the last two nights, compared to 4,000 to 5,000 on June 1.

Wexler:  Have you seen an increase in homicides and violent crime this year?

Chief Hayden:  Our homicides are up about 31% this year. We’ve had 201 this year, compared to 153 at this time last year.

A local criminologist, Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, has said that while criminologists will be trying to figure out the exact causes of increases for some time, he thinks there’s a connection with the anxiety and job losses caused by COVID.

Our increase has occurred during the summer. On May 31 we were down four homicides for the year. Now we’re up 48.

In more of the homicides we know the suspect’s identity. I think that points back to people having shorter fuses due to job loss, anxiety, and being confined. A lot were personal vendettas. There are just more acquaintance homicides right now.

Wexler:  Changes were just made to your residency requirement. How do you expect those changes to impact recruiting?

Chief Hayden:  About a week ago Governor Parson signed a bill repealing the residency rule in St. Louis, which required first responders to live in the city. Under the rule, officers could leave the city after seven years of service.

This is the first time in my career that you don’t have to live in the city to become a St. Louis police officer. That’s significant because our recruiters and an outside survey tell us that the first question that comes up when someone expresses interest in becoming a police officer is “Do I have to move into the city?” The residency rule has been the number one impediment to recruiting. With that repealed, we believe that will no longer be a reason for people not to join the department.

We’ve also lost officers over the years because of the school districts or other reasons they don’t want to be in the city. When they leave, they say, “I love my job, and I love being part of this department. But with the residency rule I’m in this school district.” It’s caused them to seek out public schooling in other jurisdictions.


On September 4, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department welcomed 28 new officers to the department.


Wexler:  How has COVID-19 impacted your agency?

Chief Hayden:  We’ve had to modify our patrolling efforts to keep officers in service. At times we lost entire units due to quarantine. So we made sure everyone had their PPE and limited the contacts that officers had with people who might be infected. The goal was to keep officers available for calls for service. We didn’t want to lose entire units. We still responded to our calls, but we wanted to keep officers available for service.

We had two officers in intensive care. They’re recovering now, but both had a lot of difficulty. COVID has varying effects on people, and they really had a rough time. Thankfully they’re slowly coming back now.

Wexler:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chief Hayden:  It has been a very challenging summer. We’ve had to deal with an increase in violent crime. We’ve had COVID and quarantine. And we’ve had the civil unrest. It’s been very challenging on our officers, but we have an excellent team of commanders and officers. I can’t thank them enough for their resilience, determination, and perseverance throughout all this, because it’s been hard to cope with. Our officers are dedicated servants and committed to the oath they took, so we are managing through all this.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.