Blue Alert bill making headway

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JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri lawmakers are close to passing a bill that would establish a statewide notification system to use in the case of a fallen officer.

The goal of the “Blue Alert” system – which is currently in place in 27 other states – is to aid in the identification, location and apprehension of any people suspected of killing or seriously injuring a local, state or federal law enforcement officer. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, a former police officer himself, said he brought the bill with public safety in mind.

“I think members of the public want to know if someone’s shot a police officer nearby them,” Hill said. “They want to know what to look out for, either to call 9-1-1, or flee the scene.”

While the “Blue Alert” bill passed the House by an overwhelming margin, 146 in favor to only six opposed, a handful of Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns that the notification system could cause more harm than good.

“I just feel like this is a solution for a problem we don’t have,” said Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis. “We don’t really have an issue with apprehending anybody that does anything bad to an officer.”

Franks voted in favor of the bill, but only after an amendment was added that would punish officers who intentionally identify an innocent person. Franks said the amendment, which he believes adds police accountability, swung his vote.

“Because, all too often, we haven’t seen that type of accountability on the side of law enforcement,” Franks said.    

Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, voted for the bill, but worries that, if the alert is not detailed, it could cause more harm than good.

“When a alert goes out, and it goes to everyone’s cell phone, you have the potential of some people wanting to do good, but being kind of caught up in the emotion,” Pierson said.

Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains, a police officer of nearly 30 years, said he doesn’t believe that’s a realistic concern. 

“I think, if anything, it will help put word out to say, you know what, we’re looking for this kind of guy,” Rhoads said. “More people find out about it, that’s the whole goal of this bill.”

Kevin Ahlbrand, the legislative director for Missouri’s Fraternal Order of Police, said he believes everyone should get behind the bill. 

“Anyone who’s desperate enough to violate a police officer is certainly a danger to the community,” Ahlbrand said. “Especially with the uptick in ambush-type attacks.”

Hill said he expects the Senate to pass the bill unanimously next Thursday. Gov. Eric Greitens has already voiced his approval of the “Blue Alert” bill.