Gov. Mike Parson met with Columbia law enforcement, prosecutors and judges Thursday at the Daniel Boone City Building to talk about violent crime.
Parson is making stops in cities across Missouri this week to hold roundtable discussions with local leaders and law enforcement ahead of a special legislative session Monday that will address violent crime.
Parson emphasized the importance of giving law enforcement and prosecutors effective tools to address crime in their communities.
Parson and state officials met with Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones; Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport; Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland; Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsvile; Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, and local prosecutors. Mayor Brian Treece was unable to attend due to another commitment.
Parson cited increased crime rates and a high number of homicides in urban areas as the reasons to call the special session. Last year, Columbia experienced a spike of violent crime when the city recorded five gun deaths in just 10 days.
During the special session, lawmakers will be asked to consider amending state statutes related to six different provisions:
- Modifying the offense of endangering the welfare of a child.
- Creating the Witness Protection Fund.
- Allowing certain witness statements to be admissible in courts.
- Certification for juveniles tried as adults for the offense of unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action.
- Increasing the penalty for the offense of unlawfully transferring a weapon to a child.
- Removing residency requirements for police and public safety employees in St. Louis.
“To see a special session being called that asks our legislators to have the conversation and take action is exciting for me,” Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said after Thursday’s round table. “It’s encouraging to the officers and it should be encouraging to our citizens.”
While the closed meeting took place, around 70 protestors with the Black Lives Matter movement gathered in the city hall lobby. Kirubel Mesfin, an organizer with Peoples Defense, said they hoped to speak with Parson after the press conference to discuss their own issues in Columbia and ask his opinions about them.
But he was disappointed when Parson immediately left to make his next stop in Cape Girardeau.
“I really thought this was a great opportunity for him ... to come out and see the people that have been out here every day,” Mesfin said.
During the press conference, Parson said he would be willing to keep having conversations with protesters to learn how they can work together in the future, but such discussions would be better suited for a regular legislative session.
Parson and Sandy Karsten, the director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, emphasized the importance of witness protection programs to help those afraid of retaliation come forward with information safely. However, when asked about witnesses not providing information because they don’t trust police, Parson disagreed.
“I don’t think the majority of people distrust the police,” he said. “I don’t think that’s always a reason why people don’t report. What you see right now — people are scared.”
Some lawmakers have criticized the provisions of next week’s special session, calling on Parson to expand the topic to discuss similar topics on police reform. Again, Parson said these topics are too complicated and controversial to be addressed during a special session.
But Mesfin said he didn’t want to wait until 2021.
“I don’t want to lose hope on (Parson) as a human,” Mesfin said. “I don’t want to lose hope on Mizzou. There’s too many things and too many fights.”