Joseph Salamon, News Editor

The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ School of Social Work hosted a critical issues symposium to address and improve the relationship between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. On March 9, students, professors, concerned citizens, and media professionals filled the J.C. Penney auditorium for a conversation on impartial, unbiased, positive policing in the local communities.

Dean of the UMSL School of Social Work, Sharon Johnson, facilitated the discussion with the help of UMSL Police Sergeant Cedric Carr, as members of local law enforcement shared the steps they are taking to improve both the way police work is conducted and the relationship between law enforcement and their communities.

Speakers included St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, Detective Sergeant Heather Taylor, Police Captain Eddie Simmons Jr., Chief Juvenile Officer Rick Gaines, Attorney Herman Jimerson, and Arkansas Police Officer Tommy Norman.

The function of the symposium was to create a direct line of contact between law enforcement and the citizens they serve by having the speakers address current problems within law enforcement and detail the steps they are making to correct said problems. A question and answer session followed the speeches, allowing the attendees to voice their individual concerns.

Newly appointed in December 2017, Police Chief Hayden stressed his desire to work closely with members of the St. Louis community, to establish a sense of oneness. “I want to get the protest communities’ opinion on things,” Hayden said, pointing out that two steps in solving problems are identification and negotiation. “I want my relationship with the protest communities to be about negotiation.”

Both Taylor and Jimerson shared personal experiences of how growing up in St. Louis with a hostile relationship with law enforcement affected both their personal and social lives. Jimerson stated, “Perception is reality, but with people like Chief Hayden, our perception is changing.”

A common theme throughout the symposium was the idea of the community and the police force coming together as one to improve relations between the two entities. Taylor mentioned “phrases like ‘bridging the gap,’ though they have been repeated constantly, do not mean anything unless we hold police accountable. But we need an accountable community too. It goes both ways.”

A group of about 50 students from Ferguson Middle School attended the symposium, with many of them vocalizing their concerns of the current state of the justice system and also offering ways to lay groundwork for establishing a healthy relationship with law enforcement officers. At the beginning of the symposium, Johnson said, “The voices of our youth are not heard often enough during these conversations.”

The presence of the Ferguson Middle School students served as tangible evidence of the attempt to positively familiarize the community with members of law enforcement. The focus of law enforcement on reaching out to youth is vital, considering they are beginning to open their eyes to the sociopolitical climate in the wake of protests of police brutality, many of which have taken place in and around St. Louis.

In addition to the racial profiling, implicit bias, and cultural diversity training required for aspiring St. Louis police officers, Chief Hayden is also working to introduce constitutional rights training in which trainees would work with law professors from local universities.

Officer Norman concluded the event with a one-on-one interview with KSDK reporter Casey Nolen outside of the J.C. Penney Conference Center.