Missouri Desperately Needs Police Reform. Lawmakers Should Not Wait To Pass Senate Bill 60!

Below is the testimony that Smart Sentencing Coalition member Kenya Brumfield Young presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 22, 2021 about the passage of Senate Bill 60. Senate Bill 60 puts into place new policies that aim to increase police accountability and build trust between police and the communities they serve. Empower Missouri is advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 60.

Below is Kenya’ powerful testimony:

Greetings, Honorable Senators. I am Kenya Brumfield-Young, an Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at St. Louis University. My areas of focus are juvenile justice and delinquency, and race, and the criminal justice system. 

I am writing to testify in support of Senate Bill 60. I offer my testimony as my own expert opinion, and it in no way reflects the opinions of St. Louis University or affiliates.

“I [state your name], do swear, that I will as searcher for guns, swords, and other weapons among the slaves in my district, faithfully, and as privately as I can, discharge the trust reposed in me as the law directs, to the best of my power. So help me, God.”  

That may be jarring, but it is history. That is the oath taken by Slave Patrollers in North Carolina, circa 1828. When one thinks of policing in America, that may not be the first image that comes to mind, but it is the earliest policing model that serves as the foundation upon which our current policing models are built.  

Over the next 193 years, there have been theoretical changes and technological advances made to policing; we continued to build new walls and roofs on the same foundation but the origins of this institution has left an indelible mark on the communities served by policing agencies.  

In June of 2020, the Pew Research Center conducted a study and found the following:

  • 63% of Whites compared to 84% of Blacks believed that blacks are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police.
  • According to the same survey, black adults are about five times as likely as whites to say police have unfairly stopped them because of their race or ethnicity (44% vs. 9%).
  • 78% of White people and 48% of Black people surveyed reported that the police did an “excellent” or “good” job when it comes to protecting their community.
  • 75% of White people and 33% of Black people surveyed reported that the police in their community did an “excellent” or “good” job when it comes to using the right amount of force.
  • 75% of White people and 35% of Black people surveyed reported that the police in their community did an “excellent” or “good” job when it comes to treating racial and ethnic groups equally.
  • 70% of White people and 31% of Black people surveyed reported that the police in their community did an “excellent” or “good” job when holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs.

SB60 presents reforms that will help to build trust between the Police Officers and the communities they serve and which they are apart. This bill establishes standards and the expectations that communities are treated with respect and dignity. There are also mechanisms in SB60 that begin to replace the foundation referenced earlier in my remarks.

  • Disallowing Sex on Duty: The proposed bill is in line with the current “Prison Rape Elimination Act” or PREA, which disallows any sexual contact between custodial staff and the people they supervise. This applies the same principle to the Police Officer. Without such a provision, people in police custody remain in a clear power imbalance during a vulnerable period if detained by an officer who wanted to take advantage of someone in that situation. SB60 closes a loophole in the law created by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), created in 2003 under President Bush that disallowed all sexual contact between custodial staff and those in custody but did not apply to Police Offices and their detainees.  
  • As we have seen on far too many occasions, chokeholds have been used as a form of police violence with little to no accountability on the officer’s part. Although there is a use of force continuum, the court often views this use of force incidents using the Connor standard as developed in Graham v. Connor. In Connor (1989), the court ruled that excessive force “should take into account the “reasonableness” of the search and seizure. To determine if an officer used excessive force, the court must decide how an objectively reasonable police officer in the same situation would have acted. The officer’s intent or motivation should be irrelevant in this analysis.” While SB60 does not eliminate the “reasonableness” issue, it does establish a framework necessary by which police officers can be held accountable when they use excessive force or violence.  
  • The last point I will address in detail is the ban on “No Knock” warrants. As the bill states, this draconian policy is from the War on Drugs era. A 2014 study conducted by the ACLU determines that 79% of these actions are conducted to serve search warrants.

Missouri is a “right to carry state” this policy is not only dangerous for Missouri citizens, but it is also an unnecessary hazard for police officers. A reasonable person will exhibit concern and, in many cases, may protect their dwelling by force when someone enters their home between 2 am and 4 am when these raids are usually conducted.

Since the death of Breonna Taylor, Louisville, Ky, and the state of Virginia have passed laws banning the practice. Other states currently have it under review.   

The police’s demilitarization is a necessary yet challenging task when one considers the equipment currently in use, but SB60 is a step in the right direction.  Every person in Missouri, regardless of zip code, should feel safe with the people who are sworn to protect them. They should feel valued and respected, and each person should have the right to remain free of indignities. 

Each of you hold this office because the people of Missouri made a choice, they chose you, now I ask that you chose them and please pass SB60 out of your committee.

Thank you,
Kenya Brumfield-Young, MLS, MSCJ