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Missouri Sheriffs form new lobbying group: ‘We can no longer sit back’

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A new coalition of Missouri sheriffs has formed in an effort to “take an assertive stand” in the Capitol. 

The Missouri Sheriffs United, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit launched this week as a lobbying arm of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association. And they already have a handful of priorities to tackle with the General Assembly, from cutting down on the “backlog” the state owes to counties as part of its jail reimbursement program to ending so-called “catch-and-release” policies

“The way things have gone politically here in the last few years with legislators putting more and more burdens on local communities, taxpayers, and sheriff’s offices specifically, it’s time to take more of an assertive stand or position where we not only share information and share facts, but we can become more involved in calls to action and asking voters to get involved,” Kevin Merritt, acting director of Missouri Sheriffs United, told The Missouri Times. 

Missouri Sheriff’s Association President David Parrish

The biggest priority for the group is tackling the “arrearage that the state is in” with the jail reimbursement program. Missouri’s “one of a kind” system reimburses county jails, through the Department of Corrections (DOC) for housing, transporting, and otherwise taking care of individuals convicted of a felony. 

The department has been under scrutiny for the backlog it has accrued in repaying counties — with department officials blaming the “discrepancy” between the money it has to pay out and what is allocated by the General Assembly, which is responsible for approving state departments’ budgets. Data showed the department owed counties about $33 million for the 2019 fiscal year. 

“We’ve got some promising commitments on the amount of funds that could be put toward paying down that state debt. But we’re still not out of the woods yet. We still have more work to do,” Merritt said. 

Merritt also said Missouri Sheriffs United would work to end what he called “offender-centered” practices, pointing to the new bond rules imposed by the Missouri Supreme Court last year. The state’s highest court tasked judges with considering non-monetary conditions of release for alleged offenders unless deemed necessary for public safety or to ensure the individual will show up to a scheduled court appearance. 

Earlier this year, dozens of state lawmakers signed onto a letter asking the Missouri Supreme Court to reverse course on the pretrial release standards. 

“It’s so offender-centered that it is detrimental to protecting the citizens of the communities who are law-abiding,” Merritt said. “We’re taking a stand against that kind of endangerment to the public.” 

“We can no longer sit back and wait for someone else to protect the public,” he said. “The sheriffs are uniting and presenting a united front in standing up for their communities.” 

Nearly 50 sheriffs descended on the capital city this week to promote the new organization. 

All of Missouri’s 115 sheriffs are on board with the Missouri Sheriffs United, David Parrish, the Lewis County sheriff and president of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association, said in a news release. 

“We’re creating bylaws now,” Parrish said. “We’re going to begin asking citizens for assistance, monetary assistance, so we can grow the Missouri Sheriffs United, and then we’ll use that funding to come to the Capitol and make sure the law-abiding citizens are protected.”

Cover photo is of Johnson County County Sheriff Scott Munsterman, secretary of Missouri Sheriffs United.