Missouri governor touts anti-crime bills as reformers give mixed reviews

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff, this month touted his accomplishments in fighting crime.

“As Governor and a former law enforcement officer for more than 22 years, protecting the people of our state is of utmost importance to my administration,” the governor said in a news release. “We know we have a serious problem with violent crime that must be addressed. This has been a priority of ours since day one, and we will continue doing everything we can to fight violent crime, support law enforcement, achieve justice for victims, and make our communities safer.”

He cited two bills passed by the General Assembly during a special session on violent crime in July.

HB 66 created a fund law enforcement agencies can use to provide security for the crime victims, witnesses and immediate family members, the governor said. HB 46 eliminates the requirement that public safety employees for the city of St. Louis live in the city.

“The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is currently short by more than 140 officers, and this legislation can help fill that gap,” the governor said in a news release.

Jeanette Mott Oxford, director of policy and organizing for a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, Empower Missouri, gives the governor mixed reviews.

“When he came into office, unelected to replace a governor who had left in a scandal, his office said some things that we found very encouraging,” Oxford told The Center Square. “Early on, he was saying he was not interested in building more prisons, and we found that really encouraging.”

Missouri in 2018 was one of a few states that still had a growing prison population as a result of a “tough-on-crime approach” instead of a “smart-on-crime” approach, she said.

Far too many people were being locked up for addiction and mental health issues and there were racial disparities in policing and incarceration, she said.

“Some good legislation passed in 2019, such as House Bill 192, which ended a debtor’s prison-type situation where people could be locked up for long amounts of time because of their inability to pay fines and fees,” Oxford said.

But there was a backlash from law enforcement, especially sheriffs, at the end of 2019, she said.

In 2020, very few reform bills saw the light of day, including those reforming mandatory minimum sentence requirements and life without parole, said Oxford.

“The word was that members of the majority caucus were saying they didn’t want to debate these things and be caught on record in an election year looking soft on crime,” Oxford said. “It was a very bad year.”

On the last day of the session, May 15, Senate Bill 600, passed the House. It could increase the state’s prison population by 2,500 inmates over the next two decades, Oxford added.

Parson signed the bill despite a push to convince him to veto it.

“We were really disappointed about that,” Oxford said.

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