(Missourinet) – The Missouri House passed two bills Thursday that aim to give more protection to police officers.
One measure would create a “Blue Alert System” that would send out text and broadcast alerts in a locality if a police officer was attacked. A similar system has been established in several other states in response to ambush-style killings of law enforcement personnel.
The other bill would increase criminal penalties for assaulting a police officer, as well as damaging or trespassing on police property.
The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of both proposals. The Blue Alert System bill passed 140-6, but was not without critics.
Speaking before the House, Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) said he is concerned that a “Blue Alert System would dilute the message of AMBER Alerts, and encourage vigilantism. Merideth said Blue Alerts in a state with constitutional carry and stand your ground laws could create dangerous situations.
“When you add those to getting an alert on your phone with a description of somebody who is labelled a cop killer and you see someone matching that description,” Merideth said, “I think it’s pretty understandable to imagine a citizen of this state pulling out their gun to both protect themselves and to enforce the law.”
Merideth unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill so that messages sent by the alert system would advise recipients to not pursue suspects. He ultimately voted in favor of the final bill.
Rep. Randy Dunn (D-Kansas City) emphasized the measure’s importance in showing support for police.
“I hope that those unintended consequences will not become a reality, but again, I think this is an opportunity for us, as a body, to show our support for our law enforcement officers who do put their lives on the line”.
The other proposal, which would increase penalties for crimes committed against police officers, passed by a slightly closer margin, 120-35. It would revise Missouri’s criminal code to designate law enforcement officers as “special victims.” Attacking or killing a police officer would become a higher class of felony.
Also included in the bill is a provision making rioting a felony if police are targeted.
Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) said neither of the measures approved Thursday will do much to protect police. She claimed the bigger issue facing lawmakers is restoring the general public’s faith in the criminal justice system.
McCann Beatty introduced legislation this week to require a special prosecutor for cases in which charges or a complaint are filed against a police officer involved in a shooting.