Gov. Mike Parson met with local leaders and law enforcement at the new Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson Thursday to discuss the growing problem of violent crime in Missouri.
Violent crime is not just a big city problem. Smaller towns and rural areas of the state are also seeing a spike in crime.
For evidence of that, one just needed to just look out a courthouse window to see protestors on the sidewalk once again demanding justice for Madison “Madi” Robinson, a 15-year-old Cape Girardeau girl who was shot to death on her front porch last August. A suspect had been arrested on the night of the murder but was released in November when a primary witness failed to testify.
“I think you’re seeing a spike everywhere,” Parson said. “When I first became sheriff, homicides in Polk County where I was from — you never did hear about that much. It was a pretty safe county. I worked 16 homicides before I got out of being sheriff.”
Twenty years ago, it was unusual to have a homicide in Cape Girardeau, Parson continued. “But today, I think we’re all concerned that it can happen in any of our communities. We have got to make sure people feel safe.”
If nothing is done about violent crime, it will just get worse, Parson added.
To deal with the problem, the governor announced a special session of the legislature that began this past Monday.
“I want to be clear that violent crime isn’t just a St. Louis or Kansas City problem,” Parson said. “It is a Missouri problem, and we cannot wait until next session to address it. It must be addressed now, which is why we are having this special session.”
The special session will focus on amending state statutes related to violent crime. Specifically, six different provisions will be considered:
• Police and public safety employee residency requirements for St. Louis — The proposal to be considered would eliminate the residency requirement for St. Louis law enforcement so long as the officer lives within an hour of the city. This proposal would also prohibit requiring any public safety employee for the city of St. Louis to be a resident of the City.
This would help address a shortage of officers. “Since I have been governor, in the St. Louis region, they have been short 150-200 officers,” Parson said.
• Juvenile certification — This proposal requires the court to determine if a juvenile should be certified for trial as an adult for the offense of unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action.
• Witness statement admissibility — This proposal would allow certain statements to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current statute. Sometimes something causes witnesses to be intimidated so they won’t appear in court; this would allow their statements to be used as evidence.
• Witness protection fund — This proposal creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund.
Witness protection is available on the federal level but has not been offered on the state level because of the cost. “We’re willing to put money behind this,” Parson said.
Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox later told The Cash-Book Journal that this one point would make a big difference in prosecuting violent crimes in this area. Currently, witnesses of murders are often afraid to testify.
• Endangering the Welfare of a Child — This proposal modifies the offense of endangering the welfare of a child for a person who encourages a child to engage in a weapons offense. In some areas, violent criminals are handing their weapons to young children to hold for them so they don’t get in trouble with it.
• Unlawful Transfer of Weapons — This proposal would increase penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers any firearm to a child less than 18 years without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.
“As governor and a former law enforcement officer for more than 22 years, protecting our citizens and upholding the laws of our state are of utmost importance to my administration,” Parson said. “We know we have a serious problem with violent crime here in Missouri that must be addressed. Violent crime has been a problem in our state long before COVID-19, and we have seen it escalate even more in recent weeks, specifically in our big cities.”
Missouri has seen rapid increases in crime rates this year, primarily in urban areas. Kansas City recently reached 101 homicides for 2020 — a 35 percent increase from 2019. In St. Louis, there have been 130 homicides so far this year compared to 99 at the same time last year.
Homicides in St. Louis and Kansas City “account for about 62 percent of the homicides in the state,” Parson said. “That also means that 38 percent are out here in the rest of the state.”
From May to June alone, data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department shows significant increases in reports of violent crime. In St. Louis County, aggravated assaults with a firearm are up 19 percent year-to-date.
“These are just the grim numbers, but the effects of violent crime across our state are best measured in lives — lives lost, futures cut short, and families hurting,” Parson said. “All of this is unacceptable. We are better than that in Missouri, and we must hold violent criminals accountable for their actions.
Parson said he welcomed federal law enforcement to help quell violence in Kansas City and would welcome any help we can get to fight violent crime anywhere in this state.
“If we are to change violent criminal acts across our state, we must work together,” Parson said. “We must do our jobs. We must support our law enforcement officers, and we must start prioritizing the prevention of violent crime.
“This special session is aimed directly at violent crime,” he said.
All of these proposals have been discussed by the legislature in the last legislative session, but that session was cut short because of the coronavirus.