House District 50 candidates differ on police reform measures

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Views on police reform highlight some differences between the candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives District 50 seat.

Incumbent Rep. Sara Walsh, a Republican from Ashland, is challenged by Kari Chesney, a Democrat from Columbia.

The News Tribune asked the candidates to answer readers' questions about police reform.

Responses may have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri's Legislative Black Caucus in the 2020 special session proposed Senate Bill 16, which would have created or modified police reform accountability measures, including the following. What is your position on each of the proposed modifications?

- Law enforcement officers could not use deadly force to make an arrest unless a person displayed "aggravated aggressive resistance and the officer has an objectively reasonable belief that the person poses an imminent threat to the officer or others."

Sara Walsh: Our laws already require an officer to believe an imminent threat to the officer or others exists before using deadly force. I do not believe we need more laws to restate the laws we have had for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) addressed deadly force to prevent escape, Graham v. Connor (1989) constitutional limits on use of force, Plakas v. Drinski (1993) constitutional limits on use of deadly force, and Pena v. Leombruni (2000) use of force regarding the suspect's mental state. Instead, let's better equip the law enforcement community to keep us safe.

Kari Chesney: I am in full support of the Legislative Black Caucus' SB 16. Their requests are basically to use last-resort actions only as a last resort. Our officers should never use deadly force unless a person is an imminent threat to them or others around them. The vast majority of officers abide by and agree with this already, but those few that do not should be held accountable. We should never put our officers in a position where they cannot defend themselves, but we also need to make sure that our justice system is equitable across the board.

- Use of a carotid restraint or chokehold in making an arrest would be barred.

Walsh: The potential risk with every tactic must be balanced against risk of injury to citizens in the vicinity and our officers. Officers must respond accordingly to bring an altercation to a swift conclusion because research tells us extended struggles increase injuries to nearby citizens, officers, and increase the risk of an escaping felon. Neck restraints are a less-lethal tactic and have been used by KCPD for 50 years without death or any serious injury. Prohibiting neck restraints limits an officer's options to more lethal tactics. A baton or firearm would likely cause more serious injuries.

Chesney: The use of carotid restraint (chokeholds) is a barbaric policy that needs to be banned. The reason is that the majority of our officers do not perform the technique properly. It is meant to render a person unconscious quickly without interference with the windpipe - which we have seen is rarely the outcome of these actions. Data show that carotid restraint is used on Black individuals at a higher rate than white individuals, especially in non-violent situations. There are much safer techniques than the chokehold to restrain someone during arrest.

- No-knock warrants could only be used "if there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect of a violent felony offense will escape or cause bodily harm to others."

Walsh: An ongoing problem in the fight against the increasing illegal drug manufacture and distribution in our communities is the ability of a criminal to destroy evidence or render evidence inadmissible before an officer may secure it. Months or years of criminal investigation by our officers and prosecutors is lost and career criminals walk free in our neighborhoods. No-knock warrants are very rarely used and only after review and pre-approval by the Judge who was elected by each community. Citizens make their own decisions with the officers they hire, and the prosecutors and judges they elect and entrust with these decisions.

Chesney: Given the pervasive nature of firearms in the home and current "stand your ground" laws, no-knock warrants are dangerous for both civilians and the police officers. I completely agree that they should only be used "if there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect of a violent felony offense will escape or cause bodily harm to others." This protects all parties involved and would drastically reduce accidents caused in the heat of the moment.

- A private citizen could use physical force in self-defense or defense of property or to detain an aggressor until law enforcement arrives, but not to pursue an aggressor who flees.

Walsh: The national standard for community law enforcement is 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents. Columbia, for example, has roughly 1.3 officers. In other words, Columbia is running a department which is short 140 officers. Our officers cannot be everywhere at once and citizens, especially rural citizens, may have to rely on some level of self-protection. We have seen countless examples of citizen intervention that has helped solve crimes. I support the ability of a citizen to lawfully protect his or her family and property.

Chesney: While private citizens have every right to protect themselves and their property, the law should be left to law enforcement. We cannot have vigilante justice on our streets with private folks chasing down criminals and taking the law into their own hand.

This article was updated at 8:55 a.m  Oct. 25, 2020, with Kari Chezney's answer to one of the questions