Beginning the Fight Against Crime
An extra legislative session called by the governor, which began July 27, continued this week. The General Assembly is tasked with passing a package of legislation to address violent crime in Missouri’s largest cities. The Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Policy Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 1 last week and sent the legislation onto the full Senate this week. As a member of that committee, I listened as a number of law enforcement officials and prosecutors spoke in favor of the governor’s proposals.
Senate Bill 1 contains six specific measures to help police and prosecutors combat the alarming level of lawlessness Missouri is experiencing. The legislation will not end violence in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and elsewhere, but I believe the proposals the governor put forward will help, and I hope they can be approved during the brief time we have available during the extra session.
One of the reforms the governor proposed relates only to St. Louis, where the municipal police department has been understaffed for years. The department says it is currently short 142 officers – more than 10 percent below their full force of 1,348. Every newly hired police officer in St. Louis must reside within the city limits during their first seven years of employment. This residency requirement, I believe, discourages good cops from wanting to serve in the city. Senate Bill 1 removes this requirement.
Two other provisions of SB 1 address witness intimidation. The legislation eases rules regarding hearsay testimony so that statements from witnesses can be admitted into court when the witness is afraid to appear at the trial in person. The bill also establishes a special fund to help cover the cost of providing security for witnesses in criminal trials.
An individual who encourages a juvenile to commit a violent criminal act could be charged with endangering the welfare of a child if SB 1 becomes law. The measure also increases the penalty for knowingly selling or transferring a firearm to a minor without permission from the child’s guardian. In my opinion, both measures are aimed at criminal gangs who enlist juveniles. Finally, any juvenile charged with armed criminal action or unlawful use of a weapon would have to appear before a judge who will determine whether the child should be tried as an adult.
The Senate is expected to finish its work on the anti-crime bill this week, at which point the legislation will move to the House of Representatives. We’ll see how events unfold in the coming days.
In my opinion, these measures alone will not solve the alarming epidemic of violence in Missouri’s largest cities. More will need to be done, but I believe this legislation provides police and prosecutors valuable tools to address specific problems. As I listen to my colleagues and read news reports, I see there are many opinions about other possible solutions. I expect we will revisit this subject when the 101st General Assembly convenes in January.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.