JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A police reform bill was passed through a House committee on Wednesday that would prohibit the use of respiratory chokeholds by police officers, among other measures.
SB 53, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, was combined with SB 60, sponsored by Sen. Brian Williams, earlier this session to address various police reform topics. After passing through the Senate with bipartisan support, the bill is now making its way through the same process in the House.
“Being someone who not only grew up in Ferguson but represents Ferguson, I think it’s really important that we focus on what the very foundation of public safety is and that’s trust,” Williams told The Heartlander. “Creating an opportunity where there can be constructive dialogue between the community and law enforcement is extremely important.”
Beyond banning respiratory chokeholds by police officers, Williams’ portion of SB 53 would also prevent officers with a history of misconduct from transferring to different police departments and aims to address sexual misconduct between officers and detainees, making it a class E felony.
Williams said he is “extremely optimistic” about the bill’s chances of getting approved by the House and believes the measure would “move Missouri forward in an unprecedented way” if it were to get signed into law.
However, not everyone was happy with the way the bills were combined into one. Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel said the measure is a “bait-and-switch for something that looks a lot like Jim Crow.” In disagreement with Chapel, Williams believes the bill to be something greatly beneficial for the state.
“Well I can tell you this, this is the first time we’ve had reform since the death of Michael Brown,” Williams noted. “We haven’t seen any police reforms in St. Louis, Kansas City or any other part of the state. To think that we’ve been able to get this done in a Republican held legislature when we haven’t seen local government take the lead in over seven years, I think it’s great for the state.”
In his mission to get bipartisan police reform passed in Missouri, Williams traveled across the state and spoke with citizens and police officers to gather different perspectives on the matter.
“Working and talking to law enforcement throughout the entire state, one thing I’ve learned is that the one thing a good police officer hates most is a bad police officer,” he recalled. “The state is ready for police reform and I’m glad my colleagues respected that.”
After being elected to the Senate in 2018, Williams has built a strong reputation of forming great relationships and being able to find common ground with legislators on the other side of the aisle. He said it stems from disagreements he had with the way legislators handled business before he was elected.
“I was very frustrated with the fact that everyday people have to get up and work with folks that they may not agree with and still do their job – politics shouldn’t be any different,” Williams said. “So to think that Democrats and Republicans alike come back to their respective districts and communities and say, ‘We can’t work with each other, therefore the people suffer.’ I had a fundamental disagreement with that.”
After passing through the initial House committee on Wednesday, the measure is headed to another committee for a vote before it can be considered by the entire House body.