ST. LOUIS — Supporting sheriff offices across Missouri and improving working conditions for police officers is the main mission of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, according to its president Tommy Greenwell. He added the Sheriffs Association is always striving to make communities a safer place to live and raise families.
The Association fulfills this mission in two major ways: advocacy and its training programs. Greenwell said they accomplish these goals by providing full and part-time training programs, as well as continued education for current police officers.
During this past legislative session, Greenwell said the Association “won a battle” the group has fighting for years.
The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 42, which states that to run for sheriff, a candidate must be a certified peace officer. To be a certified peace officer, a person must go through law enforcement training through the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Prior to the new law, only convicted felons and those too young to hold the office of sheriff were omitted from candidacy.
During the past, Greenwell said this initiative was not always seen as a priority as there are so many bills the legislature deals with each year.
“Some of the legislators thought it wasn’t necessary to be a certified peace officer to be sheriff,” he explained. “They knew [that is how] sheriffs were elected years ago…there were… some citizens who were elected years ago that made good sheriffs back then but now the training requirements and the way law enforcement has evolved is — if you get elected to the sheriff’s office and are giving advice to the people, it’s so technical now that you need to be a certified peace officer.”
Greenwell said the Sheriffs’ Association also took interest in the much-discussed gun bill this past session: House Bill 436. He said the organization support Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. Although the association members, Greenwell added, are Second Amendment supporters, he said the bill would prevent Missouri police officers from participating federal task forces. The group also feared with the passage of the bill, police officers would be vulnerable to civil lawsuits.
“We don’t want the federal government or anyone else taking away weapons from good, honest, law abiding citizens,” Greenwell said. “On the other hand, we don’t want our hands tied when we need to go after a convicted felon or a criminal who has committed a crime with a firearm or possession of a firearm or ammunition.”
The Sheriffs’ Association is developing its next legislative agenda. Greenwell said he is not certain about all the initiatives included in that package, but is sure one will be increasing sheriff’s salaries. He used his personal income as an example. As a sheriff for 17 years in Putnam County, Greenwell said his salary has been increased $5,000 during that time.
“We don’t think [the salaries] are adequate for all the professional people we need to be sheriff,” Greenwell said.
An additional effort of the Association deals with a grant from the U.S. Justice Department is advancing the Missouri prison system, Greenwell said. When a criminal enters the prison system, they go through a biometric scan and that information is shared with all participating counties in the state. Greenwell said the goal is for every county to have the biometric system.
Brittany Ruess was a reporter for The Missouri Times and the SEMO Times, and a graduate of Webster University.