In Ferguson, Missouri, a Black man, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014. George Floyd, in 2020, was killed due to suffocation by police restraint.
Both incidents prompted Senator Brian Williams, one of two Black men elected to the Missouri Senate, to propose an updated bill to overhaul the criminal justice system and how law enforcement operates.
How do Senate Bills 53 and 60 improve Missouri’s law enforcement and criminal justice system?
Law enforcement reform and police action were considered greatly in these bills, particularly with identifying problematic officers and improving background checks.
This bill also bans chokeholds as a police action restraining method and further penalizes police and correction officers who have sexual contact with detainees or with those being held in jail.
Other proposals for Missouri’s criminal justice system are to keep juveniles from being processed into adult prisons while awaiting trial. Expungement delay times shorten the ability to vacate convictions if it is believed that the accused is innocent.
The bills are expected to become law in August 2021.
Law Enforcement Improvements
One tool that this bill requires for police force accountability is to collect and report local use-of-force incidents. This will include information on the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved. This database along with other tools can help track officers with problematic records.
If these tools are utilized along with improved background checks, these will prevent wrongdoing officers, who may have been fired from one department, from moving to another and escaping accountability.
The legislation was also approved to support police officer wellness in the form of providing services for officers dealing with stress and psychological trauma resulting from performing their job.
Police Action Prohibitions
Police in Missouri are now banned from restraining a suspect using a chokehold. These holds prevent or restrict air from passing through the neck. However, the penalty for performing a chokehold remains unclear.
Penalties for police and correction officers who have sexual contact with detainees, suspects or prisoners in jail have been increased to a Class E felony.
Criminal justice improvements
This bill makes clear that juveniles who are certified to stand trial as an adult will remain in juvenile detention rather than be moved to an adult prison.
For those who have served their required sentence, the time to request an expungement will be shortened from seven years to three for a felony and three years to one year for a misdemeanor.
Innocent people can be freed from wrongful imprisonment. Motions can be filed by prosecutors and circuit attorneys to vacate convictions if a person is believed to be innocent.