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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The new police chief in St. Louis is a 30-year veteran of the department described by community activists as a "fair and decent" man who will reach out to residents, including those with a strong distrust of police.
Mayor Lyda Krewson on Thursday announced the hiring of John Hayden, who most recently has been a major in charge of the patrol division on the crime-riddled north side of St. Louis.
Krewson said the city was seeking someone with a stellar reputation, a proven track record and a reputation for being fair and inclusive.
"That describes John Hayden and I am thrilled to have him as the chief of police," Krewson said.
Hayden, 55, fought back emotions, at one point pausing to exhale, as he spoke at a news conference and pledged to improve relations with residents and work with activists. But he said his first priority will be addressing the violent crime plaguing St. Louis.
The city has recorded more than 200 homicides this year, the most since 1995. Only about one-third of the homicides have been solved, largely because witnesses and victims of gun crimes are hesitant to come forward, often out of fear of retribution.
"I spent the past 30 years of my life on this police department," Hayden said. "I believe my love for this city, my experience, my work ethic and my pursuit of excellence will serve me well in my new role as chief of police."
Hayden, who is black, was chosen from a field of more than 40 original applicants that had narrowed this month to six finalists, including interim Chief Lawrence O'Toole, who led the 1,300-officer department after Sam Dotson abruptly retired on the same April day that Krewson took over as mayor.
O'Toole drew the scorn of activists after white former officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder in September in the 2011 shooting death of a black suspect, 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. More than 300 people have been arrested at protests amid claims that officers under the watch of O'Toole, who is white, abused and taunted some who were taken into custody.
An internal investigation of how police have handled the protests has been ongoing since September, and the U.S. Department of Justice also is investigating. Protests have ended in recent weeks but activists have pledged periodic demonstrations indefinitely.
In November, a federal court responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri issued an injunction prohibiting St. Louis police from shutting down nonviolent demonstrations or using chemical agents simply to punish protesters.
Activists said they were pleased that O'Toole was passed over for the top job, and they were optimistic about Hayden.
Democratic state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., a protest leader, praised the new chief as a strong communicator. Franks, who is black, believes Hayden will work toward a community policing model that gets input from people in neighborhoods where police are often unwelcome.
"You need that community buy-in and the community has to trust the police department," Franks said.
Another activist, John Chasnoff, who is white, said Hayden "has a reputation of being a fair and decent person."
"We're going to be pushing him to take the department in a different direction and we hope he is responsive to hearing that from the community," Chasnoff said.
Hayden said he will spend some of his first days on the job out in the community.
"When people are trusting you, when people know you, they are always more willing to help you and certainly more willing to give you information on crimes you are trying to solve," he said.
Hayden will be paid $153,000 a year to lead the department. Officially named Metropolitan Police Department, it has an annual budget of $170 million.