ST. LOUIS — Every chief owns the homicide rate.
That’s something St. Louis Chief John Hayden told me in a recent interview about the city’s crime rate.
On his watch, the city’s homicide rate has reached a per-capita record.
Now, his former chief, Dan Isom, is his boss.
I had the chance to ask Isom to take off his Interim Public Safety Director hat for just one minute and rewind the clock to 2008-2012 when he was serving as police chief.
And imagine he’s facing the same situation Hayden is.
The city’s homicide rate is an at all-time high.
The force has about 150 vacant positions that haven’t been filled for at least four years, and the police union claims about another 50 officers are out of service at any given time due to illnesses, injuries or other personal reasons.
Your mayor announces she wants to eliminate the vacant officer positions from your budget, which you have used as a safety net when you blow your overtime budget to keep cars staffed.
And she wants to close one of the city’s two jails, which currently houses those who prosecutors have charged with mostly violent offenses and for whom judges have set high or no bonds.
So, how would Police Chief Dan Isom handle that?
Basically, he told me, you deal with it.
“Well, put it this way. As you know, I took the job as police chief in 2008, which was the Great Recession. And so what I was told as police chief then is that your budget is not going to change. It's going to be flat. And that, as a matter of fact, you're going to have to make significant cuts for you to maintain your operation.
“So we cut benefits in terms of insurance.
“We had to do furloughs for personnel.
“We had to make adjustments to the police department.”
“So what I would say is that when there is a mission and direction, you take that mission and direction and organize your department and your efforts to attack the problem.”
Isom also took the chance to own his homicide rate.
“I will also say during that time, homicides were skyrocketing as well as. When I first came in, we were at 167. And they had been going up and up. But there were 112 when I left, and that's during the Great Recession. So what I will say is, I dealt with that.”
But Isom is temporary in his new role as Public Safety Director.
He’s asked for a two-year leave of absence from his post as the director of the Regional Justice Information Service Commission, where he gets paid about $185,000 annually. That doesn’t include any money he makes traveling the country speaking as an expert on policing issues or serving as a consultant.
He’s now making $200,018 as Mayor Tishaura Jones’ Interim Public Safety Director.
Jones said she worked with Hayden to cut 98 vacant police officer positions from the budget, so she can spent the $4 million in savings on social-service type of programs and efforts to prevent crime.
The Board of Aldermen must now approve her budget proposal.
And Isom will be there to enforce it.