Protests calling for police reform have swept the country for the past year, sparked by former police officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd in May 2020. With Chauvin currently facing trial, and continued instances of police brutality against African Americans, the issue of police brutality has not gone away and reform is beginning to make strides in legislation.
Lobbying for police reform has been prevalent in Missouri since the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. A bill concerning police reform and accountability passed the Missouri Senate and is now making its way to the Missouri House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 60 establishes a ban on police chokeholds, increases the penalty for officers engaging in sexual conduct with detainees to a class E felony, prevents discharged officers from moving to another department to escape accountability for wrongdoings and establishes a program to provide help to officers coping with stress and psychological trauma.
This bill was sponsored by state senator Brian Williams, who in 2018 was the first Black male to be elected to the Missouri Senate in 20 years. Williams hopes that this bill will save Black lives as well as support the police while getting rid of the officers that harm their profession.
SB 60 has now been combined with another police reform bill, Senate Bill 53, that would remove the residency requirement of police officers in Kansas City. Proposed by state senator Tony Luetkemeyer, SB 53 gives police officers the option to live within a 30 mile radius of Kansas City, and requires the officers to be Missouri residents.
Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City expressed his opposition to SB 53, tweeting, “Such a bill is a step back for community-police relations at a time our city cannot afford it. Outside occupying forces lead to more problems, not fewer.”
Lucas further explained, “There are many things we need to do to stem the rising violent crime in our city – de-escalation, better health services, community investment, youth empowerment. Bills like this fostering greater division between the community and its police ain’t it.”
Despite the opposing argument of Mayor Lucas and Kansas City Police Department’s Chief Rick Smith, the bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Senator Luetkemeyer defended the bill, arguing most police already live outside of high-crime areas and responded to the opposition by saying, “The bottom line for me is an officer’s address does not dictate how they perform on the job.”