Legislators Finalize Changes to Combat Violent Crime
The Missouri Senate concluded its work on an extra session to address violent crime this week with the passage of several important measures. The session, called by the governor, specifically targeted rapidly increasing violent crime rates in Missouri’s largest cities and metropolitan areas. Violent crime can have a far-reaching, long-lasting impact on people, their communities and the economy—so it’s imperative that we act right now to stem the tide of this senseless violence.
First and foremost, House Bill 66 creates a statewide witness protection fund. This fund, which received bipartisan support at every level of government, will ensure witnesses feel safe reporting crimes and providing vital information to help solve those crimes. House Bill 2 allows hearsay evidence to be used in court in instances when witnesses have given statements to justice officials and were then killed before, or intimidated from, appearing in court. According to 2019 FBI data, only 45% of violent crimes in the US end in arrest and prosecution. By creating a shield of protection for witnesses, I believe we will help law enforcement officers solve more crimes and put violent criminals where they belong: behind bars.
In addition, HB 2 also gives the attorney general the ability to intervene in homicide cases in the City of St. Louis. Commonly referred to as concurrent jurisdiction, this language allows the attorney general to prosecute first and second-degree murder cases that occur in the city. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department reports that more than 180 homicides have already occurred in the City of St. Louis this year. When compared to the 194 murders that occurred in 2019 and the 186 murders that happened in 2018, the statistics paint a grim picture of the horrific violence occurring in St. Louis. By authorizing the attorney general to intervene in these homicide cases, it is my hope that we will be able to bring justice to the families who have lost loved ones to these unspeakable acts of violence.
Another problem addressed by legislation passed during the extra session is the rise in street gangs using children to commit violent crimes in order to avoid harsh criminal penalties. Specifically, House Bill 11 considers it felony child endangerment to encourage, aid or cause a child under 17 to commit violent weapons or drug offenses. Furthermore, House Bill 16 considers it a felony to transfer a firearm to a minor for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with or preventing an arrest, detention or investigation—or to transfer firearms to a minor without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian. It’s disgusting and unconscionable that any adult would use a child as a pawn to protect their own criminal behavior— I believe these changes will re-focus the justice system on criminals who do just that.
Finally, House Bill 46 temporarily relaxes the residency requirement for police officers in the City of St. Louis. This is an issue I was proud to have already been working on with our attorney general and St. Louis municipal and public safety officials. According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the city police force is short more than 140 officers. By temporarily relaxing the residency requirement, I believe we will allow the department to dramatically expand their pool of qualified applicants and staff their agency at appropriate levels. We know that police face significant stress during the course of their duties—anything we can do to reduce that burden will potentially result in fewer mistakes, greater accountability and ensure more resources are available to solve crimes.
Addressing the increase of violent crime rates is essential to ensuring our state continues to rebuild and grow as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. I firmly believe children do better in school, businesses invest and expand, and communities thrive when people feel safe and secure. From where I stand, these measures push Missouri forward and provide commonsense tools to reduce violent crime and deliver justice.
As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Missouri Senate. If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (573) 751-3678 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns — we are honored to serve you.