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Missouri bill to drop police residency rule heads to governor

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis police, firefighters and other first responders no longer would have to live in that city under a bill headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

Senators voted 25-5 on Wednesday to pass the measure, which would end a decades-long requirement that St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers live in the city.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and local police said opening up hiring to nonresidents would expand the pool of potential applicants and boost recruiting for the understaffed agency.

She said Tuesday via Twitter: “Thank you to the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from across the state who worked with us to advance this important legislation, which puts the City on a level playing field & allows @SLMPD to recruit from a larger, more diverse geographic area.”

St. Louis Police Officers Association President Jay Schroeder said in a statement that the bill would “stem the tide of departures and will be an essential tool to recruit new officers to address the chronic understaffing.”

The measure is one of several called for by the governor, a Republican, in a special session aimed at curbing a recent surge in violent crime in the state’s cities.

Critics — including the state NAACP conference, state lawmakers and other elected officials from St. Louis — slammed the police residency bill as taking away control from city voters, who will weigh in on the rule Nov. 3.

If Parson enacts the state bill, it will render the Nov. 3 local vote moot.

The bill gained traction in Missouri as protesters outraged by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota police custody have renewed calls for a community policing model, in which officers are encouraged get to know their precincts and focus on deescalation.

St. Louis lawmakers argued that hiring police who are not from the city or don’t currently live there could exacerbate divides between law enforcement and the people they serve.

State senators also spent hours Wednesday debating a proposal by Sen. Bob Onder, a Republican representing the St. Charles area, to give the state attorney general the ability to prosecute homicides in St. Louis.

In Missouri, the attorney general currently has limited power to intervene in local criminal cases unless prosecutors ask for help.

Parson added the proposal on St. Louis crime to his legislative wish list midway through the special session. It was widely seen as a rebuke of the city’s first Black circuit attorney, Kim Gardner, who supports greater police accountability and using diversion programs instead of incarceration.

Gardner, a, Democrat has angered top Republican officials, including President Donald Trump. She most recently came under fire for filing criminal charges against a white couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, with felony unlawful use of a weapon after they pointed guns at racial inequality protesters marching past their home.

Parson has said he spoke with Trump about Gardner’s decision and told the president that it’s difficult to remove an elected official from office in Missouri, though he didn’t say if Trump had asked if Gardner could be removed.

Onder, who on Wednesday pitched giving the attorney general more power in St. Louis, criticized Gardner as “soft on prosecuting murders”and has called her incompetent. Last month he floated the idea of giving the governor the authority to oust prosecutors for reasons including incompetence.

“She’s wasting money prosecuting a middle-aged couple,” Onder said Wednesday in a Senate debate. “She is spending time bringing these political prosecutions rather than doing her job of prosecuting murders.”

Gardner won the Democratic primary for her office in August with about 61 percent of the vote, which Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called a “mandate.” Gardner is expected to win the general election in November in the city, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.

“And here you are tying to strip away her power simply because she’s a Black woman that’s standing up for criminal justice reform,” Nasheed said to Onder in debate on the Senate floor.

“I don’t care whether she’s Black, brown or purple,” Onder responded, arguing that Gardner had a poor record prosecuting crime.

A similar bill never received a committee hearing in the state House, which is a strong signal that there’s little appetite in that chamber to pass the law.

MetroSTL.com staff contributed to this report.

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