JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s attorney general proposed Friday that it be illegal for police to use deadly force unless a suspect committed a violent felony or poses a serious threat to others, as part of recommendations responding to the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson that sparked national protests.
Attorney General Chris Koster also recommended a new scholarship program to promote diversity in law enforcement, that police departments be required to report data on the race of their employees and the formation of a task for to review state traffic stop data. Most of his recommendations require legislative action.
The proposals stem from panel discussions held last fall in St. Louis and Kansas City following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury declined on Nov. 24 to charge Wilson with a crime.
The shooting and grand jury announcement both triggered protests, some of which turned violent and included looting and arson.
“This is one way the frustration expressed on the streets of Missouri’s urban areas can bring positive change in the policing of our communities,” Koster said in a written statement accompanying his report.
Koster also proposed changing state laws governing the release of video collected by police cameras. His proposed legislation would make footage from police body cameras a closed record under the state’s Sunshine Law, limiting public access. The change is needed to encourage police departments to use the cameras while protecting personal privacy, according to the report.
Missouri is one of at least a dozen states where lawmakers are proposing to mandate or expand the use of cameras attached to officers’ uniforms in an attempt to avoid disputes about exactly what happened during police conflicts with citizens. Several states are also considering more training for officers, tighter limits on using deadly force and the appointment of special investigators when police kill people as a result of Ferguson and the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York.
More than 50 bills have been introduced in Missouri alone related to the shootings. Bills to limit public access to footage taken by police were filed last week by two Republican lawmakers. Other bills would require police to wear body cameras.
Current Missouri law provides justification for deadly force during an arrest or against a fleeing suspect when an officer believes they’ve committed or attempted a felony or when they may pose a serious threat of danger to others. Koster’s proposal requires the felony in question be a violent one.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, participated in protests in Ferguson after Brown’s death. Her bill, heard by a Senate committee this week, includes changes to the use of deadly force law similar to those suggested by Koster but is more limited. Her version would only allow for deadly force if the officer believes a person poses a clear danger to anyone.
Tightening the justification would bring Missouri in line with U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the use of deadly force, she said.
Koster’s report also addresses the issue of traffic fines collected by Missouri cities. Some residents of Ferguson have said they felt harassed by police because of the way traffic laws are enforced. Current state law limits the portion of revenue cities can get from traffic fines, but that has not always been enforced. Koster has sued some municipalities over the issue, but the report says cities should not have to face lawsuits before complying with the limits.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, would lower the limit on how much revenue cities can get from traffic violations, and cities that don’t comply would face a public vote by residents on whether the city should be dissolved. That bill was approved by a Senate committee this week.