ST. LOUIS (AP) — A 30-year veteran of the department will be the new police chief of St. Louis, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Thursday.
John Hayden currently commands a patrol division on the city's north side. He was chosen from among six finalists after a national search.
Hayden said his first priority will be addressing violent crime in the city, including the rising homicide rate. He said he supports community policing and will seek input from residents.
More than 200 people have been killed in St. Louis this year, the most in more than two decades. The annual homicide total has increased from 120 in 2013 to 159 in 2014, then 188 in both 2015 and 2016. The last time St. Louis recorded more than 200 homicides was 1995, when 204 people were killed.
Krewson and others say an abundance of guns, many of them illegal, are a major problem in the city of 316,000 residents. A gun buyback effort earlier this month brought in hundreds of weapons.
Only about one-third of the homicides in St. Louis this year have been solved. That's largely because witnesses and victims of gun crimes are hesitant to come forward, often out of fear of retribution.
Lawrence O'Toole has served as interim chief since April, when former chief Sam Dotson retired on the day Krewson took office as mayor.
O'Toole was among the finalists for the job despite criticism of the department's handling of racially charged protests since white former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in September of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old black drug suspect.
More than 300 people have been arrested at the protests, with some of those arrested claiming police were too forceful or taunted them. 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.
No protests have been held in recent weeks but activists have promised periodic demonstrations indefinitely.
In November, a federal court responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri issued an injunction saying that St. Louis police cannot shut down nonviolent demonstrations or use chemical agents simply to punish protesters.
Protest leader Bruce Franks, a state lawmaker who has been arrested during the demonstrations, said he's optimistic about the hiring of Hayden, who he described as a strong communicator.
Krewson said Hayden, who is black, has a track record of building trust in areas where he served.
Asked about trust issues between residents and police, Hayden said, "We are held to a higher standard and we should be, and we will live up to that."
Hayden will be paid $153,000 a year to lead the department, which is officially named Metropolitan Police Department and has about 1,300 officers and an annual budget of $170 million.