Next week, we return to Jefferson City to address the alarming increase in violent crime sweeping Missouri. The governor’s call for an extra session declared the state in the midst of an “unprecedented wave of violent crime.” Last year, Missouri’s three largest cities ranked among the most dangerous in the nation. Tragically, this year is on pace to be even worse. As the governor’s extra session proclamation says, Missouri has seen more homicides during the first half of 2020 than in all of last year. This increase in violence led the White House to start a new violent crime initiative, Operation Legend, named for a 4-year-old boy who was tragically shot and killed in his sleep in Kansas City last month. Something must be done.
My SB 600, which was signed into law earlier this month, targets the most violent offenders — ending probation for murders, cracking down on gangs and career criminals and ensuring felons who use weapons to commit acts of violence are behind bars. The governor’s call for an extra session asks us to build upon that progress.
Two of the key actions requested in the extra session will ensure witnesses aren’t prevented from testifying in cases involving dangerous crimes. One measure expands the admissibility of witness testimony when a witness is intimidated from testifying. The other establishes a special fund to ensure the safety of witnesses in criminal proceedings. This proposal is similar to SB 857, which I introduced during the 2020 session. My legislation established a “Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund,” to provide for the security of witnesses and their families. Prosecutors and police can’t solve cases without witnesses, and witnesses won’t come forward unless they feel safe. Providing the means for prosecutors to temporarily relocate witnesses will encourage more cases to move forward and help put dangerous criminals behind bars.
The call of the extra session also asked us to remove the requirement that police officers for the City of St. Louis live in the city. Removing the residency requirement will help attract more recruits to the department, which is currently understaffed by 150 officers, according to the police officers’ association. Simply put, our largest cities need more officers on the streets to ensure law and order.
Finally, to address the large number of violent crimes committed by minors, the extra session also proposes requiring juveniles charged with weapons offenses to appear before a judge to determine whether they should be charged as adults. Likewise, encouraging a child to commit a weapons offense would become a new crime, and transferring a firearm to a minor without the consent of the child’s guardian would become a felony.
One of the core functions of government is public safety. We must never lose sight of the solemn duty of government to protect its citizens from violence. My hope is this extra session will continue the successes we had during the regular session to make our state a safer place for all Missourians.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, represents Buchanan and Platte counties in the Missouri Senate.