OSAGE BEACH, MO. — Cities and towns across Missouri are short police officers and Gov. Mike Parson told a room full of law enforcement officers Friday that the state is trying different avenues to recruit more officers.
In the wake of recent high-profile shootings across the nation, Parson said to combat crime, prosecutors and judges need to do their job. He told members at the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) state conference Friday that Missouri is better off than a lot of other states in the country.
“I definitely think we are safer here in Missouri, but I will also tell you there is a risk anytime that those are out there and things are going to happen,” Parson told our Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley after he spoke at the conference. “Bad people are going to do bad things.”
Officers from around the state gathered in a conference room at a hotel at Lake of the Ozarks, cheering for Parson when he walked in. The governor, a former sheriff, told them that enough is enough when it comes to violence against police.
“What you men and women do are the things that the average citizen does not want to do,” Parson said. “They expect you to do it every time and expect you to do it right every time.”
Agencies across the state are dealing with a shortage of officers. In Kansas City, the police department has 224 open positions. Over in St. Louis City, the Metropolitan Police Department is short 123 officers.
Springfield Police Department says there are 48 open spots to hire officers and in Joplin, the city’s police department is short 21 officers.
“I can’t imagine. We’ve got our troubles in our state, parts of it, but you take a look at Chicago. Who in the world would want to be a police officer in Chicago?” Parson said. “Not to say we’re out of the clear either. St. Louis has its problems. Kansas City has theirs, but they are fixable problems.”
When asked what is the state doing to recruit more police officers to Missouri, Parson said they are working to put law enforcement academies in high schools.
“There’s a lot of things we are doing on the scholarship side of things, trying to get people into law enforcement, but the one thing we got to do is make sure to support law enforcement. And you have to encourage people to get into that arena to make sure they are willing to help other people,” Parson said.
He also mentioned Missouri having the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the country to have a police academy. Back in 2020, the governor signed off on a new academy at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Recently, the program graduated eight new law enforcement professionals.
Parson said in the interview that more resources need to be spent on things like mental health, not more gun laws.
“We try to make it a gun issue every time, and it’s not the gun issue,” Parson said. “If you look at where mass shootings occur, the vast majority of them across the United States or where violent crime is. They mostly are the urban areas that have some of the strictest gun laws.”
Back in 2007, the state repealed legislation that required background checks when purchasing handguns. Then in 2016, the General Assembly reversed another law allowing open carry, meaning permits aren’t needed. Missouri also doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for buying a firearm.
Missourians at any age can open carry, but under federal law, a person must be 21 to purchase a handgun and 18 to buy a rifle. Under the federal Youth Handgun Safety Act, anyone under 18 is prohibited from owning a handgun except in limited circumstances. Local government can limit where those firearms are allowed. The state also doesn’t require background checks, but if a gun is purchased at a licensed dealer, federal laws kick in and require one.
In Missouri, minors can own handguns and long guns, but under federal law, a person must be 18 or older to possess a handgun and be 21 to buy one.
After lawmakers repealed legislation back in 2016, anyone 19 and older can carry a concealed weapon without a permit and no training is required. If Missourians want, they can still apply for a concealed-carry permit, which requires a firearms training course and a background check.
When it comes to selling firearms in Missouri, there are no regulations for gun dealers in Missouri.
Last year, the governor signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) into law which bars police officers from enforcing federal gun laws. If they do, they could be fined up to $50,000. Dozens of agencies, including more than 60 police chiefs, spoke out in opposition to the law saying it interferes with federal partners and the use of national databases and resources.
Parson said to prevent tragedies, judges, and prosecutors need to be part of the solution.
“These police officers are out there risking their lives every day, and these victims out here deserve justice and all of a sudden when you have a system that doesn’t fulfill what its oath is. It’s problematic for the entire system,” Parson said.
He specifically called out St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner while talking to the full room of officers, after asking if anyone was from the St. Louis City area.
“If I had a magic wand, I would do something about the prosecutor up there [St. Louis] but I don’t,” Parson said. “The reality of it is these prosecutors have to do their job. If they don’t do their job, judges don’t do their job, the system fails.”
When asked in an interview afterward, Parson said there are prosecutors out there that don’t do a good job.
“Take a look at St. Louis for example, the prosecutor up there, everybody in the state of Missouri knows that the prosecutor’s office does not work efficiently,” Parson said. “We’ve sent the Highway Patrol up there and make numerous cases and like 30% of them get filed.”
Gardner’s office responded to Parson’s comments Friday afternoon, blasting the state’s lax gun laws, saying:
The Governor’s comments feed the fire and shift the blame. In a state with some of the most lax gun laws in the country, his failure to take responsibility and his finger pointing is disappointing. In order to stem the violence plaguing our communities, we must work together to enact common sense gun laws and address the root causes of crime in our communities.
I welcome a one on one conversation with the Governor about what we are doing in St. Louis, and learning about what he is doing to strengthen our gun laws to prevent violent crime and hold criminals accountable. We must work together to find ways to take the guns off the streets that are fueling the violence and devastating our communities.