Judge Jimmie Edwards came by The St. Louis American on Friday, October 13, the day Mayor Lyda Krewson announced his appointment as director of Public Safety – the boss of the police and fire chiefs, we well as of the director of Corrections – to talk about his new position.
The American: How did this come to happen? It’s a surprise to some, this appointment.
JE: Well, about three weeks ago I was contacted by a representative of the mayor, who asked if I would consider being the Public Safety Director. And of course, my initial response was, I need to understand what the Public Safety Director does and what are the requirements of the Public Safety Director. So, of course I said I would consider it, and so I had maybe four or five discussions with the representative, three or four discussions with the mayor, and after giving it a lot of thought and having conversations with my family, the only question I had was whether I could do any good and make a difference in our community. So, when I was getting close to making a decision, I indicated to the mayor I respected her, and I loved our city, and because of that, I think that I’m willing to consider, more carefully, your offer.
I have had a lot of discussion with folk -- police, officers, protesters, agitators and the like -- about what our city should look like and what should be my expectations should I take the job. And much to my happiness, they all want the same thing. They all want peace. They all want the same thing, they all want to be able to live. But we all recognize that we’ve had some challenges in our community, especially with policing. I like police officers. I’ve been law-and-order for twenty-five years. But I’m not naive enough to believe that all police officers should be police officers. And those that should not be police officers should take an opportunity to take a look at themselves, can they do good even when nobody’s looking? Will you do justice irrespective of who a person is, or where they live, or their station in life, or their sexual orientation, or their race?
You see, I think we accomplish nothing when we’re yelling at each other, we accomplish nothing when we’re on the fringes and unwilling to come to the table. I think one of the most important things that I can do as the director of public safety is to be a voice of calm, to reassure citizens of the City of St. Louis that we will do every single thing that we can do to treat everybody fairly, to keep people safe, including police officers, including protesters, including African-American people, and that all communities will be policed in the same way. And that we will be accountable, and we will be transparent, and we will learn the rules, and we will follow the rules.
You see, I think the only change, the immediate change, that we’ll see is we’ll see hardworking departments that will be accountable and will try to get it right.
The American: As a judge, you know our government better than most, so you know that the punitive role of government is abrogated to the courts. Most of us who have watched the police work at protests, but also in covering street crime, they see many police officers -- I won’t even say some, you might say some -- they seem to have abrogated for themselves a punitive role. If a suspect makes them run, they get a lick. If they make them car chase, they get maybe a bullet. If they make them come out and work a double shift at a protest and get screamed at -- First Amendment rights of course sometimes used to express hate which is also constitutional -- I’m gonna hit ‘em with the shield on the way down and maybe zip-tie them so their arms bleed. What’s your message for police officers that are policing in a form that seems to have taken on a punitive role?
JE: Well, certainly we can’t legislate morality. I hope that we have the ability to change personality and to continue to be the professionals that we expect our law enforcement to be.
You see, policing is an honorable profession. As a little boy, like so many other little boys that grew up in my community, we all wanted to be police officers or firefighters. I think that we have to restore trust and confidence in the community, but that trust and confidence in the community will be expressed by each individual act of each individual officer. And so we will have to scrutinize with microscopic lenses how we police. That will be the responsibility of the police chief. And so, those will be the types of things that perhaps from a policy perspective, we can look at continuing education, understanding the rights of individuals, revisiting the role of the police officer, revisiting what it means to have probable cause. Probable cause is a reasonable suspicion, more than a hunch, that a crime has been committed or that a crime is afoot. Yelling and screaming is not a crime by any statute in this country. The First Amendment takes precedent.
We all have a right to protest. I would be the last to say that we don’t. But, you don’t have a right to commit crimes, you don’t have a right to destroy property, you don’t have a right to assault police officers. You see, there’s a responsibility that we all have. We have a responsibility as citizens, and officers have a responsibility as those that have been commissioned to serve and protect us.
And so, I know a lot of my job will be about policing. I understand that a lot of my job will be setting the appropriate tone and reassuring citizens and businesses and visitors that when you come to the city of St. Louis, it will be a safe place, it will be a place that is not in chaos, and it will be a place of peace and beauty. Those are my hopes for our city.
The American: You mentioned the police chief’s role. Were you briefed on the status of the chief at this point, and how do you feel that’s going and what input would you want to have into that?
JE: I don’t even know where my office is right now, Chris. I haven’t had an opportunity to investigate any of this. I haven’t had an opportunity to even meet the department heads, and so this is very new.
The American: You’re not even working there yet.
JE: I am not working there.
The American: So, I think also then it’s premature to ask about the status of the interim chief?
The American: Okay. They’re getting a legal mind for free as their Director of Public Safety, and there’s some big cases pending against the department, with the ACLU suit and the videographer team. Have you reviewed those?
JE: I have not, I have not reviewed those cases.
The American: And they’re federal cases, so --
JE: I am not familiar with them. They are federal cases only, and I read that, but I have no idea in terms of the context.
The American: So, agreeing that it’s early and that we shouldn’t hold you to too much at this point and let you get your planted, is there anything else you want to add?
JE: No. I just want to make sure that I’m always accessible. I believe listening, to everyone, is a sign of respect. A judge’s responsibility, the first responsibility, is to be a good listener and to be the arbiter of the facts. I intend to continue to be a good listener. I’ve seen the worst in our city and I’ve seen some of the best. I think that our city certainly can be an example of what it means to be resilient, and what it means to be decent, law-abiding, and what it means to be a great place to raise a family, to live, and to play.