Saying that Missouri has seen rapid increases in crime this year, Governor Mike Parson (R) has called a special session to begin on July 27th in Jefferson City.
“As Governor and a former law enforcement officer for more than 22 years, protecting our citizens and upholding the laws of our state are of utmost importance to my administration,” Parson says.
The governor tells Capitol reporters that witness protection will be a key component of the special session call.
“Because one of the things that you have especially in violent crime, especially in some of the areas that we talk about, people don’t want to come forward and testify because they’re scared … they fear for their life,” Parson says.
There have been teen witnesses to St. Louis homicides in recent years who have been killed, before they could testify.
A key proposal in the governor’s January State of the State Address was $1 million in funding for witness protection. Despite bipartisan support in both the Missouri Senate and House, the measure did not pass this year.
The governor says violent crime has escalated in recent weeks, specifically in St. Louis and Kansas City.
“Last night, four people were shot and killed in St. Louis, bringing the number of homicides so far this year to 130, compared to 99 at the same time last year,” says Parson.
Across the state in Kansas City, there have been 101 homicides this year. Governor Parson says that’s a 35 percent increase from 2019.
The governor also says aggravated assaults with a firearm are up 19 percent year-to-date in St. Louis County.
The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus chairman issued a statement on Wednesday, after the governor’s press conference. State Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, says Governor Parson should call a special session on police reform.
“The communities he openly identified in his call today, namely Kansas City and St. Louis, have spent decades begging for institutional change in law enforcement. In an open letter to the governor last month, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus requested that Governor Parson create a database to track officers who have been fired for misconduct, ban the training and use of chokeholds and other restraining techniques by police that can cause life-threatening injuries, and establish new guidelines for accountability by police departments when dealing with excessive use of force. It is disappointing that these requests are not being considered for a special session, especially as such requests have garnered state and national attention in an effort to prompt real and positive change,” Roberts says, in a statement.
Governor Parson says his biggest concern is violent crime and homicides.
Law enforcement from around Missouri joined the governor in the Capitol Rotunda for today’s briefing, including state Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Sandy Karsten and Missouri State Highway Patrol Colonel Eric Olson.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, Kansas City Police Chief Richard Smith, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams, Arnold Police Chief Robert “Bob” Shockey, Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler and Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism also attended.
While witness protection will be a key part of the special session call, so will eliminating the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers. Chief Hayden traveled to Jefferson City in January to testify for that provision, saying the residency requirement is the greatest challenge the department has with recruitment and retention.
“We have the greatest need for officers and the most demanding criminal environment in the state of Missouri, yet we have the greatest barrier to becoming an officer by discouraging applicants with the residency requirement,” Chief Hayden testified in January.
He noted that there were 194 murders, 2,600 shootings and 349 carjackings in St. Louis in 2019.
Another component of the special session call involves endangering the welfare of a child. The governor’s proposal modifies the offense of endangering the welfare of a child, for a person who encourages a child to engage in a weapons offense.
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