Chokehold ban, repeal of KC residency rule wins initial approval of Missouri Senate

After hours of debate, Kansas City senators win concessions to limit how far from city police can live

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville (photo courtesy of Missouri Senate Communications).

A bill banning police chokeholds and repealing a requirement that Kansas City police officers reside within the city received initial approval in the Missouri Senate on Tuesday.

Provisions added to the bill by Democratic Sen. Brian Williams of University City 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. The bill would also help to improve background checks on officers.

“When I think about public safety and police reform, building the trust in the community should not be a partisan goal,” Williams said. “That should be a goal we all share.”

But those reform measures were not what caused debate on the bill to stretch out over several hours Tuesday evening.

Instead, the Senate became bogged down on one controversial piece of the bill sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, that would repeal Kansas City’s residency requirement for police.

In Kansas City, sworn officers must reside in the city for one year before beginning employment. Civilian workers have nine months to move into the city.

Lifting the residency rule has faced stiff opposition from Kansas City leaders for years.

Kansas City is the only city in Missouri, and one of the largest cities in the U.S., that doesn’t have local control of its police department. Instead, the department is controlled by a five-member board appointed by the governor.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Tuesday that repealing the rule would be a “step back for community-police relations at a time our city cannot afford it. Outside occupying forces lead to more problems, not fewer.”

“There are many things we need to do to stem the rising violent crime in our city — de-escalation, better health services, community investment, youth empowerment,” Lucas said. “Bills like this fostering greater division between the community and its police ain’t it.”

But Luetkemeyer insisted that allowing officers to live wherever they wish will help recruiting and retention.

“The right to choose where one lives is one of the most basic,” he said. “That right should not be denied to members of the Kansas City Police Department.”

His original bill would have only allowed Kansas City to require officers reside within 60 miles from the nearest city limit.

Kansas City’s two Democratic senators — Greg Razer and Barbara Washington — demanded changes.

Razer wanted the bill to require officers to live in Missouri, arguing that those patrolling the streets of Kansas City should not live across the state line in Kansas.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask police officers who patrol our streets to live in our state,” he said. “My city is not okay with that.”

Washington fought for the radius of where an officer can live to be restricted, from 60 miles from the nearest city limit to 25 miles from the police department’s downtown headquarters.

“Living outside the city means you don’t understand us,” she said, later adding: “The people who get arrested live in my district. The people who get killed live inside my district.”

After initial opposition from Luetkemeyer, he ultimately agreed to the ban on living out of state and to allow the city to require officers reside up to 30 miles from the nearest city limit.

The Senate still needs to vote one more time before the bill would be sent to the Missouri House.

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