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Missouri Governor Parson signs bill to better protect witnesses to violent crime; law officers say it’s needed

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri’s special session on the growing problem of violent crime across the state ended without lawmakers acting on bills dealing with juvenile crime and gun possession.

But Governor Parson says the most important bill of the session was passed, and Tuesday he was in Springfield to explain it.

The governor says this was his number one priority in the special session, especially in a time when law enforcement are the ones being targeted in many of the violent crime cases. He says the witnesses have to feel confident they can come forward safely, or else the violent criminals will often not get locked up.

“What you are seeing in Portland, what you are seeing in Chicago, these are organized... this is not someone starting a little peaceful protest and it went south on them, and when they start targeting law enforcement just because they are law enforcement, we’ve got to put a stop to that,” said Governor Parson.

He spent much of his career in law enforcement as the Polk County sheriff.

“We got the same challenges they do in bigger cities right here in Southwest Missouri,” he said.

Parson says violence against officers isn’t just a big city problem, so he’s also visiting smaller towns like Springfield and Joplin to tout his new bill aimed at protecting witnesses in cases.

Local law officers gathered in a show of support, just months after one of Springfield’s own was targeted.

Officer Mark Priebe was plowed down by a car back in June in front of police headquarters.

For this case, or our near record number of homicides this year, authorities agree this program is much needed.

"The number one tool that was asked for was this program... to provide witness protection that law enforcement can access during an investigation, at the early onset of an investigation, and through that investigation up to trial. There’s really no mechanism for us to protect those witnesses and really get those people who want to be a part of the investigation and come forward, but were absolutely scared to death,” explained Springfield police chief Paul Williams.

Authorities say so often, they need witnesses to talk and testify in violent crime cases, otherwise, you have a case-- growing cold.

“In order for the witness to feel comfortable coming forward, you’ve got to protect them, and this is a great mechanism for that,” said Greene County sheriff Jim Arnott.

Arnott there says on a couple of occasions, he and his team have paid out of their own pockets for a witness to stay in a hotel for safety reasons, and now he says this is a funding mechanism in place for issues just like that.

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