Mo. lawmakers consider police bias, body camera bills
If PDs or officers were found to engage in a pattern of racial disparities in their policing, they could face discipline
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are still grappling with how to address questions about police body camera footage and racial profiling that were raised after the 2014 protests in Ferguson.
A Senate panel heard two bills Tuesday that would establish more rigorous training and reporting requirements for police encounters, including more details on what happened during a vehicle or pedestrian stop and justification for why it occurred. The bills would also require officers to tell people in "plain language" that they are voluntarily consenting to a search.
Under the legislation, if departments or officers were found to engage in a pattern of racial disparities in their policing, they could face disciplinary action or loss of state funds.
Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said the bills would help restore trust between minority communities and law enforcement.
"This is not an attack on law enforcement," the St. Louis Democrat said. "What we are trying to do is weed out the bad cops for the betterment of the community and law enforcement."
Sheldon Lineback of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association said there's nothing wrong with more transparency, but requiring officers to fill out reports every time they interact with a pedestrian could discourage police from being involved in the community. He also said the bills could create some administrative problems.
Tiffani Reliford, Ferguson resident who is black, told lawmakers she lives in "constant fear" that her daily life might bring her into contact with aggressive police.
"I will need to teach my children how to look non-threatening," she said.
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, by a white police officer set off weeks of protests in Ferguson in August 2014. The officer was cleared of wrongdoing, but a U.S. Justice Department report found that Ferguson police disproportionately targeted black residents with stops and searches and arrested many without legal justification.
The state attorney general's office already compiles annual reports on the rate that police stop drivers of different races, search their cars and make an arrest.
The committee is also considering a bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, to classify footage from police body cameras and dashboard cameras as sealed records until an investigation is closed. It also would exempt footage of a nonpublic location, such as a home, from open records laws. Similar legislation is pending in the House.
Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, said he supports the bill, though he would like the provisions on dashboard cameras loosened. There should be no expectation of privacy on a public street, he said.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press