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Missouri Republican proposes police reform bill to convict for ‘abuse of force’

A new bill is set to be introduced for next year’s legislative session that would allow the state to punish police officers for what sponsor Rep. Ron Hicks calls “abuses of force.”

The bill would create the offense of abuse of force for officer-related incidents. The crime would carry its own penalties and charges and, according to the bill’s prefiling language, would be applicable if an officer used “grossly unreasonable force which causes physical injury to another person.” 

State Rep. Ron Hicks

The abuse of force charge would carry penalties ranging from a class A misdemeanor or a class A felony.

The new crime would not make changes to other charges, according to Hicks, but would instead create a new option. Officers could still be charged separately for murder, assault, or any other acts committed.

Hicks, a Republican, said that the idea came from his brother-in-law, an attorney and municipal judge in the Lake of the Ozarks area. 

“He knows the law, and he knows how I want to protect officers,” Hicks told The Missouri Times. “Here in Missouri, we need another option we can use to charge for abuse of force. We don’t have time to waste; we need to be able to protect good police officers and the people of Missouri at the same time.”

Hicks’ bill would also include an investigation into the training of an offending officer, which he said would help eliminate the defense of “just following orders” in court. Additionally, Hicks said the bill would condemn the use of force similar to that which caused the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last month. 

“Abuse of force is going beyond what you are trained to do in a situation,” Hicks said. “If you go and see what officers are trained to do in the state of Missouri, you don’t see them teaching officers to stick their knee against the back of someone’s neck to subdue them to the ground. There’s a reason we got rid of things like the sleeper hold — because it was found that the damage could go on longer than the confrontation.”

Hicks said he had input from a number of police officers and others to ensure the bill was fair and that it would keep both police and citizens safe. 

“I don’t support defunding the police; I respect our police officers 100 percent,” Hicks said. “We need something that will help protect the men and women of law enforcement that are doing their job correctly. This is just a way to help in these matters.”

The legislation would also clarify the penalties and the levels of felonies and misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances. Charges would immediately result in the suspension or revocation of the officer’s commission.

“I think we all see that there’s going to be a review of policy,” Gov. Mike Parson said during Thursday’s press conference when asked about the measure. “I’m very supportive of the law enforcement community in this state, for those officers who go out there every day and for the ones that do it right, day in and day out. People that don’t do it right, law enforcement officers that don’t conduct themselves professionally, then I don’t have any mercy for them, they need to be held accountable.” 

Parson also said reform would be a gradual process and it is unlikely that the bill would be on the agenda for an upcoming special session due to the time restraints. 

“I think there will be discussions on that this year,” he continued. “I think there will be an opportunity to see that.” 

Hicks said he plans to file the bill when pre-filing begins on December 1.