St. Louis-area Senators Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, and Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, put forth bills that would clarify the language in Missouri law that dictates the use of force.
Right now, Missouri law states that deadly force can be used if police officers reasonably believe that the suspect is trying to escape by using a deadly weapon or could cause death or injury unless apprehended.
Under the bill filed by Nasheed, a police officer could only use deadly force if all other means of apprehension were tried, a warning was issued to the suspect and the officer believed the suspect was trying to escape while possessing a deadly weapon.
"The reason that my bill is very, very much needed is because as the statute stands today, it's too broad and it's too vague, and what I mean by that is, there's a portion in that provision that basically says when police immediately feel it is necessary, they can use lethal force-- immediately necessary," Nasheed said. "What does that mean? I mean, how has that been defined? It's not been defined. And, what we have to do is define when a police officer can use lethal force and that's what my bill does."
The bill also includes a provision that states when a police officer uses deadly force on a person 20 feet or farther away, the officer must be suspended without pay until a full investigation is complete.
"If we want to stop what happened in the Michael Brown incident, then this is how we do it," Nasheed said. "We change the policy when it comes to lethal force. If a police officer feels that it is immediately necessary, or if a police officer feels that if a felon that's fleeing or committing a felon then they can shoot to kill-- again, that's way too broad. And if we don't want to replay the incident like what happened on Aug. 9, then we're going to have to change the policy."
Under Chappelle-Nadal's bill, a police officer can use deadly force only when the officer believes the suspect is a danger to the officer or any other person. Similar to Nasheed's bill, when deadly force is used a special prosecutor must conduct a full investigation.
Additionally, it would require the governor to contract with a third-party human rights organization to monitor the activities of law enforcement when responding to cases of unrest when issuing a state of emergency. Upon issuing a state of emergency, social workers, counselors and psychologists would be deployed to the affected areas.
"Police brutality is real, and causes emotional harm to citizens already experiencing social, economic and educational challenges," Chappelle-Nadal was quoted as saying in a news release. "The lack of sensitivity and lack of cultural competency by some police officers and certain government officials has injured the community I represent beyond immediate repair."
Tear gas would only be available to use if a state of emergency is issued by the governor and only if an independent human rights organization is on hand to monitor police activity and to make sure the tear gas is administered in a humane way.
"This is the 21st century," Chappelle-Nadal was quoted as saying in the news release. "Police training and tactics from the 1930s have become outdated. As society evolves, so too must our protectors."
It would further require all law enforcement agencies to be accredited by July 1, 2016.
On-duty police officers would be required to wear body cameras under Chappelle-Nadal's bill. In addition, members of law enforcement responding to protests would have to wear visible identification and would not be able to "hog-tie" or verbally abuse protesters.
"Audio and video from cameras do not lie," Chappelle-Nadal was quoted as saying in the news release. "Too often the police tell one story, while the people tell another. Cameras with both audio and video will assist in settling controversial disputes."
Rep. Sharon Pace, D-St. Louis County, also filed bills on the use of force by law enforcement officers.
Pace's bill would require police officers "to attend a training course in diversity and sensitivity" as well as a course that would teach tactics and techniques to use during times of unrest and in peaceful demonstrations.
Her bill also calls for police officers to wear body cameras while interacting with the public and would require police officers to undergo psychological evaluations every three years.
The General Assembly meets on Jan. 7 to begin the legislative session.