Under Juden's watch

Monday, November 12, 2001

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Drew Juden grew up in Cape Girardeau watching cops park in his parents' driveway at Independence and Lorimier to catch speeders. Eventually, an officer caught him.

Juden was racing with other boys in wagons along Independence when his wagon flipped.

"I cracked my head open," Juden said. "I ended up getting a police motorcycle escort to the hospital."

On his way back home, Juden got to ride on the police Harley-Davidson.

Juden's earliest police memory has been multiplied during two decades by hundreds of assault calls, drug busts and manhunts. Since he became Department of Public Safety chief in April, his goal has been to make the perception of Sikeston as a criminal center another memory.

"There has been a stigma attached to this community," said Juden, referring to drug trafficking, homicides and riots that at times have captured national media attention.

The will to change

But Sikeston has the will to change that now, Juden said, as demonstrated by an overhaul of the city's government and an open letter to the community from city officials declaring their own war on crime.

Juden was glad to see the letter because, he said, he can't do his job without political support.

"It's going to take a lot of money and dedication to change," he said.

Witnessed by the return of former employees to the department since he replaced former chief Jim Leist, who retired this year, Juden sees he has colleagues' backing. When Leist left, DPS had 14 openings, a number Capt. Dan Armour said has been constant within the department for over 10 years. Now DPS is fully staffed with 65 patrol officers.

Cuts in red tape over hiring have sped the new officers onto the streets. This elimination of bureaucracy is one of the points on Juden's list of what he wants to accomplish as DPS chief.

A few other list items have already come to fruition. Publication of highly wanted criminals in Crimestoppers newspaper ads beginning last summer has resulted in arrests in almost 80 percent of the cases. Reward money is a large reason for the high percentage.

"We've even had people try to turn themselves in for reward money," Juden said.

City council-sponsored town meetings led by Juden have been disappointing, the chief said. The meetings, held in different parts of the city to gather a list of specific neighborhood crime concerns, were hurt by low attendance in the spring. Plans are under way to revive the meetings this winter.

"You have to empower the community like this to fix problems that are community-based," he said.

Sought out black leaders

As the issue of drug dealing comes up more and police actively combat the problem, Juden said, he is aware he will be labeled as racist. That's why he has sought out local NAACP and black church leaders. He said he wants them to know that the old mentality of crime being acceptable as long as it's kept on the West End of town where most Sikeston blacks live is not going to be tolerated.

Another of his goals is gathering support from other area law enforcement agencies. Last spring, Juden announced the formation of a major case squad using senior investigators from his department and sheriff's departments for Scott and New Madrid counties.

Juden also sought ways to enlist the National Guard in tearing down burned-out drug houses, which sporadically dot the landscape of west Sikeston. It costs about $10,000 for a private company to tear down a house, but the Guard may do it free as a service.

Plans for closer cooperation with federal law enforcement authorities is also on Juden's mind, but he said this will take time to develop.

But to win Sikeston's own war on drugs, these relationships must be built, he said.

"We have to think more on our feet, be inventive," Juden said. "We need to be there to intercept the next guy before he can get in and get established."

thall@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 122

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