A House Republican is again proposing that independent investigators be required whenever a law enforcement officer in Missouri is involved in someone’s death.
House Bill 232 would require all law enforcement agencies in Missouri to have written policies on how officer-involved deaths would be handled. Those policies would have to utilize at least two investigators, with neither of them being employed by the same agency as the officer involved in the death. In the case of traffic-related deaths, the bill would require that an outside crash reconstruction team participate in the investigation.
The bill would also require the investigators issue a report to the local prosecutor. If that prosecutor decides no prosecution will follow, the investigators would make that report public.
This is the third year Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Baldwin) has offered such a bill.
“My personal interest in it came after the events in Ferguson. I was really just seeking ways to try and improve people’s trust in police,” said Dogan. “As we saw in Ferguson and other incidents in our state since then, I think there has been a diminished trust that whenever police do kill someone in their custody that there’s going to be justice done for that person.”
The bill is modeled after legislation that has become law in Wisconsin. It was backed by Michael Bell, whose son Michael was shot and killed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2004. Bell later won a lawsuit against police over the incident.
Bell said the legislation has been put to the test in the four states where it has been passed and he believes it has worked well and has improved the public’s trust in law enforcement. He said that would also make police safer.
“One of the things I was appalled by was the shooting of the five police officers in Dallas,” said Bell. “Those retribution-type things are occurring out there, and I think that this would help in the right direction of making those retribution-type shootings become nonexistent.”
Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis), a former O’Fallon police officer and drug task force member, questioned whether the bill would make a difference.
“There’s no direction [in the bill] as to how far and wide you seek other law enforcement investigators,” said Hill. “In St. Louis County, I mean we have like 30 agencies within, I don’t know, 20 square miles probably. Don’t you fear that you get the same thing there? I mean, ‘Hey buddy, come on over here and investigate this?”
As in past years, some have questioned what the cost of Dogan’s proposal would be on law enforcement agencies, especially in rural areas.
Hill also said many law enforcement agencies in Missouri already use an outside investigator in officer-involved deaths.
Dogan said after the House last week endorsed legislation that would increase penalties when certain crimes are committed against law enforcement, following up with his legislation makes sense.
“We had a very productive and very heartfelt debate over bills concerning how we can protect law enforcement officers, and we definitely stood up as a body and said, ‘We have your backs,’ to law enforcement, all the people in our communities ask is that we have their backs,” said Dogan.
The bill would allow the agency an officer involved in a death works for to conduct its own investigation as long as it would not interfere with the independent investigation that the bill requires.