Bill to ban chokeholds now paired with controversial residency bill for Kansas City police

(photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Public Safety)

Just as a criminal justice reform bill appeared to be gaining traction in the Missouri Senate, it was attached on Monday to a controversial measure to eliminate the requirement that Kansas City police officers live in the city.

On its own, Democratic Sen. Brian Williams’ bill would ban police chokeholds, specifically neck restraints that restrict air flow, and prohibit an officer from having “sexual conduct” with someone they’ve detained or who is being held in jail. Another provision would also help to improve background checks on officers.

On Monday afternoon, Williams’ bill was combined with Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s residency bill and passed out of committee.

Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said her constituents are not happy to see the police reform bill combined with the residency bill.

“They want officers that they know,” she said, “officers that they can see at the grocery store, officers who share schools with their children and officers who are an integral part of the community.”

Washington was a co-sponsor of Williams’ bill and said she would have never agreed to sponsor a residency bill. 

At its first Senate hearing on Jan. 25, Williams’ bill was lauded by numerous law enforcement groups and the Missouri NAACP. No one testified in opposition.

At that same hearing, Luetkemeyer’s residency bill did not receive the same united support. 

Andy Arnald, a lobbyist representing Kansas City’s police board, told the committee that the board wants to maintain its authority to require Kansas City police officers to live in the community that they serve.

“The issue of residency has been reviewed and discussed extensively over the years during negotiations over memorandums of agreement between the board and the three collective bargaining organizations that represent the city officers and employees,” Arnald said.

At the end of these negotiations, the current residency policy remained in those agreements, he said.

Luetkemeyer’s bill would strip the board of that authority beginning August 28. However if the board wanted to impose a residency rule, they cannot make it more restrictive than requiring personnel to reside within a one-hour response time, the bill states.

Luetkemeyer, who resides in Parkville and whose district includes a portion of the police department’s service area, said police should have the freedom to live where they want.

Williams said there is bipartisan support for the police residency bill in the Senate. When a residency bill for St. Louis police was approved last fall during a special session, Williams says he was unsuccessful at convincing the governor to include police reform.

“I refuse to allow that to happen again,” Williams said. “We cannot afford another police residency bill without police reforms. If police residency moves forward, it is imperative that police reform does as well.”

Parson was successful in his move to temporarily eliminate the residency rule in St. Louis city for three years — something that the city’s Board of Aldermen rejected but the mayor supported. The measure, to allow the city to hire police officers who are not city residents, is set to expire Sept. 1, 2023.

On Nov. 3, St. Louis voters rejected a proposition to allow police officers — as well as all civil service employees — to live outside the city limits.

“State law will prevail for the time being,” said St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green, “but hopefully by voters voting it down, it won’t be extended.”

Washington noted that a similar measure for Kansas City residency passed the House last year but failed to get any momentum in the Senate. She worries the bill has a much better chance of passage this year because it is already moving in the Senate so early in the legislative session.

“If people are concerned about what the Fraternal Order of Police wants, then this will probably pass,” Washington said. “If they’re listening to the constituents who live in the areas that are most affected by police than that, then it may not pass.”

It’s not just Kansas City Democrats with heartburn about police reforms and residency requirements being combined into one bill. 

State Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, said the majority of the police reforms were stripped from the original bill before it was combined with the residency bill.

Williams’ original bill included eliminating no-knock search warrants; mandated that law enforcement agencies have policies on investigating officer-involved deaths; required officers to intervene when other officers are inappropriately using physical force and to report each use of excessive force to the attorney general; and barred law enforcement agencies from obtaining certain military surplus equipment from the federal government.

Roberts, who sits on the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, voted against moving the bill out of committee. And he vows to fight to add some of those original reforms back into the bill. 

Roberts said, “I’m not sure of how I will vote for it on the floor.”