Legislation that eliminates the residency requirement for St. Louis Police officers has been approved by the Missouri House Judiciary Committee. Monday afternoon’s vote was 12-4.
The bill is a key part of Governor Mike Parson’s special session call on violent crime.
State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, the bill sponsor, presented his bill and testified before the committee on Monday. Hicks tells State Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, that improving public safety in St. Louis will help the entire state.
“This is a statewide thing,” Hicks testifies.
“St. Louis is our economic hub, and we have a crime problem,” Hill tells Hicks. “And we’ve identified that policemen that are being forced to live in there are making decisions to move out so that their families can feel safer.”
House Bill 46 was amended during the hearing. It now also eliminates the residency requirements for St. Louis firefighters and EMS personnel, and has a three-year sunset clause.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden traveled to Jefferson City to testify for the Hicks bill, saying his department is more than 100 officers short. Chief Hayden tells state lawmakers that St. Louis has had 169 homicides this year, compared to 125 at this time last year.
“As of today, (the) St. Louis Police Department is down 143 officers from its authorized strength. We continue to be challenged by meeting the demands of this ongoing gun violence, continuous demonstrations. Our officers have had to endure 12-hour shifts,” Hayden says.
Chief Hayden says there were 53 St. Louis homicides in July, and 16 so far in August.
He also says six St. Louis police officers have been shot in the past few months, and that retired Police Captain Dorn was shot and killed.
Advocacy group “Empower Missouri” testified against the bill. Former State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, is the organization’s policy director. She says when officers live in communities and know their neighbors, they can create partnerships and strategies for reducing crime and unhealthy living conditions.
Mott Oxford testifies that Empower Missouri would rather see more investment in St. Louis schools.
“And the solution is for us to invest in communities, so that we all have safe communities and good schools,” says Mott Oxford.
Oxford also notes St. Louis residents will be casting ballots in November, on residency requirements. She says Missouri lawmakers should recognize the right of St. Louis City to govern itself.
Chief Hayden has testified that the residency requirement is the greatest challenge that his department has with recruitment and retention.
The four no votes were from Democrats: State Reps. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, and Robert Sauls, D-Independence.
The Judiciary Committee also unanimously approved two other crime bills on Monday.
The committee voted 17-0 for witness protection legislation from State Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit. It would create a pretrial witness protection services fund, to be administered by the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) to law enforcement agencies. The money would be used to provide security to witnesses, potential witnesses and their immediate families in criminal proceedings or investigations.
The Judiciary Committee also voted 17-0 to approve legislation from State Rep. Barry Hovis, R-Cape Girardeau, that increases penalties for witness and victim tampering.
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