JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Legislation that bans police officers from using chokeholds while also reducing residency requirements for Kansas City police sits on the governor’s desk after the bipartisan bill passed the General Assembly during the last week of the 2021 session.
The sweeping law enforcement reform package only needs one more signature before it becomes law, but there’s a lot to unravel in the legislation. Besides banning chokeholds and reducing residency requirements, it also requires a department to look at officers’ history to prevent them from bouncing around from department to department.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, worked across the aisle with Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, to get the reform bill across the finish line.
“The original bill started off as a bill to repeal the residency requirements for the Kansas City Police Department,” Luetkemeyer said. “The KCPD is one of the few departments in the state that have a residency requirement, requiring officers to live in the city.”
From there, the bill grew into a bipartisan police reform measure.
“The bill bans chokeholds,” Williams said. “It would ensure that police officers and correctional facility officers are not engaging in any level of misconduct. This is going to ensure that there is police accountability but also tackle a subculture of bad police officers.”
Once signed by the governor, the bill would relax the residency requirements for KCPD, allowing them to live within 30 miles of response time on the Missouri side.
“The Kansas City Police Department, much like St. Louis, has had a recruiting shortage for the last several years,” Luetkemeyer said. “We’re down over 100 officers in the city right now.”
Another provision from Luetkemeyer in the measure requires inmates to use their COVID relief money to pay back their victims.
“The checks were intended to compensate people who lost their jobs during the pandemic and were struggling, not giving windfalls to people who are in prison for committing crimes,” Luetkemeyer said. “If a prisoner receives one of these COVID-19 stimulus checks, that money must be used first to pay restitution to the victims before that money can ever go to the prisoner.”
After an incident in front of the Kansas City Police Department from a protestor, Luetkemeyer said he also included a part in the bill that creates a penalty if a person threatens or harasses an officer or officer’s family online.
“We’ve seen different fringe groups that will target law enforcement officers or their families and they will publicize private information about them on the internet with the hopes that people will show up to their home or their children’s schools to intimidate and harass them,” Luetkemeyer said.
He said the penalty for anti-doxxing, using the internet to threaten or harass an officer or their family, will be charged with a Class E felony under the legislation.
Williams said he hopes this legislation grows relationships between police and the community.
“It also would ensure that bad police officers cannot bounce around from department to department,” Williams said. “We’ve seen that these have all contributed to not only a lack of trust but also a lack of police accountability.”
Under Senate 53, Williams said a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor doesn’t have to wait as long to file a petition for expungement.
“So now, a non-violent offense can be expunged from their record as early as three years for a felony,” Williams said.
Currently, a person must wait seven years for a felony and three years for a misdemeanor to ask for an expungement.
Williams grew up in Ferguson, where in 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed.
“Not only a community I came from but represent became really a symbol to what happens when the community and police departments break down and it was disheartening,” William said. “We want good officers to be able to do their job and be safe but we also want unarmed black males and teenagers to feel safe as well when they see law enforcement.”
The St. Louis City and County do not allow their officers to use chokeholds. According to the city, officers have not been taught the use of any neck restraints since 2007.
“They don’t train police officers to utilize the chokehold, but now to know that there will be a penalty and it is not allowed to be used by the law, that’s going to change the process and the morale of some of those bad actors,” Williams said. “If it’s banned and they don’t train it, then it shouldn’t be a problem to put it into law.”
The legislation also establishes the “Critical Incident Stress Management Program” within the Department of Public Safety which will provide services for offices to help cope with stress and trauma. This provision requires peace officers to meet with a program service provider once every three to five years for a mental health check-in.
Other provisions in the bill:
Officers who have sex with a prisoner or detainee who is in custody of the officer will be charged with a Class E felony under Senate Bill 53.
The bill also says county coroners, medical examiners or forensic investors that work for the county medical examiner’s officer are allowed to have emergency lights on their vehicles and use them when responding to a crime scene.
Requires correctional facilities or jails to provide feminine hygiene products for free to female offenders.
And removes the residency requirement for the attorney general. Under current law, the attorney general must live in Jefferson City.
Both Williams and Luetkemeyer expect the governor to sign the legislation. Parson’s office says the bill is still in the reviewing process.