COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday signed bills that would increase police accountability, limit the use of officer chokeholds and, critics say, shield police while ramping up penalties for protesters.
One measure puts limits on investigations of officers and provides protection against civil claims unless the officer is criminally convicted, among a wide range of other policy changes.
The other limits police use of chokeholds, the technique used by former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin to kill George Floyd last year.
The chokehold provision was spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Brian Williams, of University City, who said it would “save Black lives.”
“This has been a long time coming,” Williams tweeted Tuesday.
Under the new Missouri law, police can only use chokeholds in self-defense, meaning a suspect presents a serious danger to the officer or someone else.
The broader measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, makes it a crime for police or prison guards to have sex with detainees, or to have sex with anyone else while they’re on duty if they use coercion.
It also includes a requirement that juveniles be represented by a lawyer if they’re facing charges that could mean incarceration and a mandate that jails and prisons provide women with tampons and menstrual pads.
But Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel said the measure makes little progress, especially considering it includes numerous provisions to further protect police that he said are unnecessary.
“Missouri was so far behind the times on some of these measures, that it’s hard to say that this is a real improvement because we’re just catching up with basic human rights,” Chapel said.
Luetkemeyer’s bill will allow Kansas City police to live outside city limits. He sought the change in hopes of boosting the number of Kansas City police, but critics argued the move will lead to more distrust between Black residents and white officers who don’t live in the area they police.
Parson signed Luetkemeyer’s bill the same day he gave approval to the measure sometimes referred to as the police “bill of rights.”
The new law, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Eigel, spells out procedures for disciplining police. Among other things, it requires records of any administrative investigation to be confidential and kept secret from the public, except by subpoena or court order.
Another provision addresses the so-called “defund the police” movement. It prohibits decreasing the budget for a policing agency by more than 12% compared to the jurisdiction’s other departments over a five-year period.
Both Luetkemeyer and Eigel’s legislation create new crimes, which so-called criminal justice reform advocates have opposed.
Luetkemeyer’s measure makes it a misdemeanor crime to point laser pointers at police and outlaws what’s known as doxxing, meaning posting personal identifying information online with the intent to seriously injure or kill someone. Penalties for doxxing will be higher when the victim is a police officer.
Chapel said that could mean people are charged for simply naming police accused of misconduct.
“These guys carry guns,” Chapel said. “They’ve got access to mad weapons, and essentially a bunch of friends who are also armed and paid to be available. So the thought that officers need to be afraid when someone names them in the media is completely laughable.”
Eigel’s legislation targets protesters.
The bill upgrades the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony if someone vandalizes “any public monument or structure on public property.” Public structures such as police stations have sometimes been targeted by racial injustice protesters, as have monuments including those honoring the Confederacy. The upgraded charge means, potentially, more jail time and a higher fine.
Another provision creates a new class D misdemeanor for anyone who “willfully or recklessly” interferes with an ambulance. Racial injustice protesters often march or gather on streets, roads and highways, which authorities say risks blocking access for ambulances and other first responders.