By John Sharp
The state’s new pretrial witness protection program is now in operation, and police and sheriff’s departments that have registered to participate may apply to the Missouri Department of Public Safety for reimbursement for their expenses for protecting witnesses to violent crimes.
This long overdue program, titled the Protection Program for Victims/Witnesses of Violent Crime, was created by bipartisan legislation introduced by Representative Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, and co-sponsored by my son, Representative Mark Sharp, whose district covers much of south Kansas City.
The legislation was approved by the Missouri General Assembly during a special session earlier this year called by Governor Mike Parson to address crime. It passed the House 147-3 and passed the Senate 29-0 and was signed into law by the governor on September 21. It contained an emergency clause making it law as soon as the governor signed it.
On December 11 the governor signed into law a supplemental spending bill that included $2 million to fund the program. Funding also may come from the Victims of Crime Assistance Program of the Missouri Department of Social Services.
The program covers witnesses to violent crimes and the victims themselves if their testimony could put them at risk of bodily harm. Coverage includes members of their immediate families and can continue as long as they are at risk.
Since the program operates on a reimbursement basis, local law enforcement agencies must pay or obligate funds before being reimbursed.
Hopefully, encouraging more witnesses and victims to testify will lead to more persistent violent offenders being convicted before they can hurt more victims.
KCMO had recorded 173 homicides this year by December 17, already far exceeding the former annual homicide record of 151 set in both 2017 and 2019. Of these, 22 occurred within the boundaries of the South Patrol Police Division.
While the FBI no longer provides rankings of localities by their crime levels through its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, its most recent report for 2019 released this fall showed that Missouri ranked fourth in the nation with 566 reported murders, despite only ranking 18th in the nation in estimated 2019 population. Missouri only trailed California with an estimated population over six times as high, Texas with a population nearly five times as high and Illinois with a population a little over twice as high.
Five of the seven other states that reported over 500 murders for 2019 but slightly trailed Missouri’s 566 reported murders, had populations much larger than Missouri’s including Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Only two, Louisiana and Maryland, had populations smaller than Missouri’s, and Maryland’s was nearly identical to ours.
So far this year in Missouri, St. Louis City has recorded 250 homicides through December 17 compared to KCMO’s 173, and its estimated population for 2020 is 297,733, compared to KCMO’s estimated population of 505,198.
But the number of homicides reported this year in both cities greatly exceeds the murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate reported by the FBI for similar size U.S. cities in 2019.
U.S. cities with a population of 500,000 to 999,999 reported an average of 12.5 murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases per 100,000 population. Based on that average, KCMO would have about 63 homicides annually.
U.S. cities with a population of 250,000 to 499,999 reported an average of 10.1 murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases. Based on that average, St. Louis City would have about 30 homicides annually.