(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A Missouri Senator has sponsored legislation aimed at combating violent crime in the state's metro areas, including St. Joseph.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-District 34), has two measures that toughen penalties for offenders who use a dangerous weapon to commit a felony and help stop violent criminals from being granted probation. Luetkemeyer said he sponsored the bill in hopes of making residents in his district feel safer.
"Whether they're going home at night or whether they're dropping their kids off at school, I want people to make sure that they know that they're safe," Luetkemeyer said.
The legislation came after the senator said he saw four Missouri cities listed on a few dangerous cities studies published by USA Today. The first study listed Kansas City and St. Louis in the top five of 'America's Most Dangerous Cities', with Springfield ranking number 12. In 2016, St. Joseph was fell at number seven on their list of '25 Cities were Crime is Soaring.'
"That's unacceptable. We need to make sure that we're keeping our children safe, our streets safe, and so this measure is really focused on targeting people who use guns to commit violence against unarmed citizens," Luetkemeyer said.
The bill would aim to prevent probation from being granted to certain repeat offenders and those convicted of dangerous felonies. Luetkemeyer said Missouri is one of only a few states that still allow probation to be granted to most felonies, including second-degree murder.
"You see a lot of criminals now who are receiving probation from judges for particularly heinous offenses or people who are repeat offenders, and I think it emboldens criminals because they think they can get away with this," Luetkemeyer said.
A second measure could enhance penalties under the state's armed criminal action statute for violent offenders who use a dangerous weapon to commit a felony. The senator said some court decisions that came out allowed judges to run those sentences concurrent with the underlying felony sentence, so some defendants are released early, despite convictions for multiple crimes.
"We've made the decision in the legislature that it's a more serious crime if somebody commits a felony with a gun and so we should be punishing those more vigorously," Luetkemeyer said.
The third and final measure, called the Missouri Criminal Street Gangs Prevention Act, would provide prosecutors with greater flexibility to bring charges against offenders engaged in organized crime.
"Whether you call it a gang, whether you call it a group of drug dealers, the fact is most of these shootings, most of these violent crimes are not happening in isolation," Luetkemeyer said. "It's not just a single individual that's going out and committing these crimes, they're part of a bigger network."
Luetkemeyer has pre-filed the legislation at the Missouri General Assembly, and the 2020 legislative session begins January 8th.