Reducing Violent Crime in Missouri
The First Extra Session of the Second Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly is in full swing. My fellow senators and I first met last week to begin discussing the epidemic of violent crime in our state. Six major topics to reduce violent crime comprised Senate Bill 1, which the Senate passed on Aug. 7.
These six provisions include removing the residency requirement for St. Louis City police officers, as long as the officer lives within an hour of the city. Previously, the officer would have had to live in the city for seven years before they were eligible to move outside city limits. During a lengthy discussion on Thursday, a compromise was reached when a sunset clause was added to this section of SB 1, meaning it will expire after three years unless extended by the General Assembly.
I believe this rule placed an unnecessary restriction on officers and potentially could have turned individuals away from St. Louis City. According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, they are short 142 officers. The governor cited startling violent crime statistics during his announcement of the extra session, with St. Louis seeing 130 homicides so far this year compared to 99 at this time last year. During the months of May and June, St. Louis County saw a 19 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm from last year. This is not to say St. Louis is the only community experiencing increases in violent crime, but I believe lifting this residency requirement could help reduce these numbers. From my perspective, it makes sense that more officers patrolling the streets will lead to safer communities and more criminals behind bars.
Another important provision of SB 1 is the creation of the “Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund.” This fund will provide housing and protection for witnesses and their families during a trial or investigation. Through this fund, I believe witnesses will receive the protection they need to feel embolden to participate in criminal proceedings. These witnesses might have crucial testimony that could help convict criminals, and without that testimony, they might go free. Senate Bill 1 also states that certain witness statements may be admissible in court for hearings conducted before the case is brought to trial in front of a jury. This will help ensure these important testimonies are heard, even if the witness does not appear in person for fear of being targeted.
Senate Bill 1 also states that a child between the ages of 14 and 18 can be tried as an adult if they commit a crime that would be classified as a felony if they were an adult. Additionally, if this child commits what is considered a dangerous felony in Missouri, which includes first and second degree murder, first degree assault and first degree robbery, then the court has full discretion to decide if the child must be tried as an adult. The court will take a variety of factors into account when making this decision, including the age of the child, whether this was a pattern of repeated offenses, the child’s history with the juvenile justice system, the sophistication and maturity of the child, as well as their home environment and if the child would benefit from rehabilitative treatment.
From where I stand, it is past time for the Legislature to take action on this serious issue. I am proud the governor took the initiative to call this extra session, and I believe SB 1 includes commonsense solutions to help protect the citizens of our state and make Missouri a safer place to live, work and raise a family.
Please visit Sen. Burlison’s official Missouri Senate website at senate.mo.gov/burlison for more legislative and constituent resources.