Statement to Missouri Media regarding Special Session action in the Missouri House this week

Today the Missouri House of Representatives gave final passage to five of six bills heard by House committees on August 17. The bills were crafted as a response to Gov. Mike Parson’s call to a Special Session on Violent Crime, but none address the root causes of violence. We believe that the witness of the past three decades is that these bills will have little impact on reducing violent crime.

We especially question whether residency requirements play any significant role in St. Louis City’s ability to recruit and retain highly qualified and high performing police officers. Empower Missouri opposes HB 46 for three reasons:

1) It violates local control. The Missouri General Assembly should not exercise colonial oversight over the City of St. Louis as if they are people unable to govern themselves.

2) The staff shortages in the STL Police Department cannot be solved by simply lifting residency requirements. A multi-faceted approach needs to be taken including changing the culture of policing, policy reforms that improve the transparency and integrity of law enforcement, professional development, continuum of force training, diverse recruiting practices, implicit bias and other anti-oppression training, and improving wages, benefits, and working conditions.

3) Officers who advocate for lifting residency requirements often cite quality of life issues within the City of St. Louis. Many of those issues – lack of affordable housing, lack of access to high quality schools, etc. – were created through decades of aggressive public policy that advantaged white communities and disadvantaged communities of color. The bill proposes to solve problems in St. Louis City through urban sprawl – encouraging those privileged to do so to move away. A better solution is investing in communities that have been disadvantaged by structural racism so that every community becomes a community of opportunity.

We will continue to track action on these bills as they cross over to the Missouri Senate. In 2017, the Justice Reinvestment Task Force in Missouri laid out ways to reduce recidivism, repair harm, stop first time offenses, and build trust by supporting communities heavily impacted by crime and incarceration. We encourage Missouri to return to the task force recommendations and pursue the “smart on crime” strategies that most other states are now implementing. “Tough on crime” is an expensive failure; we cannot incarcerate our way to healthy communities.

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