Missouri Senate committee begins work on violent crimefighting package

A Missouri Senate committee is reviewing a plan that aims to help reduce the state’s violent crime rate. Sen. Doug Libla, the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety Committee chairman is sponsoring the bill the Legislature is tasked with passing during the special session underway.

In Kansas City, at least 107 people have been murdered so far this year – a 35% increase over the same time last year. St. Louis has had at least 150 homicides so far in 2020, compared to 113 during the same period last year.

Gov. Mike Parson called the special session to have lawmakers pass a plan that includes creating a witness protection fund and removing a St. Louis police residency requirement to help recruit more officers.

During a committee hearing Tuesday, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says his department has a shortage of about 130 officers during a time when the city is averaging 10 homicides per week.

“No other police department in this region has a residency rule,” says Hayden. “Therefore, the department with the greatest demand for officers in this region has the greatest impediment to recruitment.”

Hayden says a study has found his department’s number one barrier to recruitment is the residency requirement.

“To meet the demands of the ongoing gun violence and continuing demonstrations, our officers have had to endure 12 hours days, cancellation of recreation days, and countless, irretrievable hours away from their families. Needless to say, our officers are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. We desperately need more officers and we need them now,” he says.

St. Louis Police Captain Charles Lowe says going to the area where he was shot in 2015 reopens a traumatic wound.

“Officers would not have the anxiety of coming back to those locations that caused them immediate anxiety,” says Lowe. “It would give them a time away from where they can separate work and their family life, if you will.”

Social welfare organization Empower Missouri says removing the rule is a matter of local control and the state should stay out of the discussion. It is supportive of a witness protection program but says the component should be dealt with during a regular legislative session.

The plan would also require judges to consider whether youth should be tried as adults for crimes involving guns. St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards says since the Legislature’s 2017 passage of a bill allowing permitless gun carry, the number of juveniles carrying guns has climbed.

“A significant number of homicides have been committed by youngsters that are 18 and below,” says Edwards.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the legislation is another ramp for juveniles to be thrown into the criminal justice system and raises racial bias concerns.

The committee has not yet voted on Senate Bill 1. The full Senate returns next Wednesday.

(Photo by David A. Lieb)

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