Missouri issues grants to investigate crimes against children committed during pandemic

(The Center Square) – Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is allocating $1.8 million in grant assistance to investigate crimes that victimized children during the pandemic, restoring funding for an initiative included in the broader 2021 bill that he vetoed in July for technical reasons.

“Criminals who victimize children must be investigated, prosecuted and brought to justice, no matter when they commit these heinous crimes,” Parson said in a statement. “The rise in crimes reported against children during the COVID-19 pandemic and the strains on agencies that detect, investigate and prosecute those criminals made it clear that local agencies could use additional assistance.”

Parson vetoed four bills adopted by lawmakers during their 2021 legislative session, including House Bill 362, filed by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, which would have required the state’s Office of Child Advocate to create a program investigating safety complaints by Children’s Division employees.

The bill was adopted in the Senate on May 3 in a 32-1 vote and in the House on May 5 in a 154-1 tally.

In his July 9 veto letter, Parson said HB 362’s Children’s Division language creates redundancy in state law and cited a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that prohibits government officials and agencies from adding such disclosure provisions to Sunshine Laws.

HB 362 also included $2 million in salary boosts for division workers, an amendment to state Sunshine Laws requiring agencies to file annual credit-and-lending reports, and $300,000 specifically for Lincoln County to investigate crimes against children.

On July 20, however, Parson announced Missouri would make up to $2 million in federal pandemic assistance money available in the form of “competitive grants to better detect, investigate and prosecute crimes against children during the pandemic.”

“We are pleased to make these funds available to help protect our children and remove criminals from the streets,” Parson said Wednesday.

Nineteen agencies applied for the Missouri Crimes Against Children/Sex Crimes COVID-19 Funding Opportunity grants and were approved to collectively receive $1,8 million.

Eligible expenses include hiring additional investigators and prosecutors, training and purchasing upgraded computer software and equipment needed to investigate crimes against children.

The grants are issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the Missouri Department of Public Safety. They will be distributed between Oct. 1 – which is Friday – and Sept. 30, 2022.

The three largest grant recipients are the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office ($191,905), the Christian County Prosecutor’s Office ($215,286) and Lincoln County Prosecutor’s Office ($300,000).

“The $300,000 grant that is going to Lincoln County will allow the Prosecutor’s Office to direct the funds to best meet the specific, local needs to help safeguard our children,” Sen. Jean Riddle, R-Fulton, said in a statement. “I am thankful the governor heard my calls for funding and followed through on his promise to help the children of my community.”

According to the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS), Lincoln County experienced 681 reported incidents of child abuse and neglect in 2019, a 9.3% increase from 2011.

Between July 2019 to June 2020, however, Riddle said that Lincoln County Children’s Division saw an additional 10% increase in similar investigations involving children.

“The grant received by the Lincoln County Prosecutor’s Office was the largest issued as a part of this program in the state, showing the true need for help in our community. I truly believe these dollars will help those who have suffered at the hands of sick and twisted individuals for far too long,” Riddle said.

Featured photo by Joe Mueller | The Center Square

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