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Missouri lawmaker wants stiffer penalties for fleeing police

"[The suspects] know what jurisdictions will attempt to proactively come after them. And which jurisdictions will hold them accountable."

ST. LOUIS — Police in our area say more and more dangerous drivers are fleeing when they try and stop them, and there are often no consequences. One Missouri lawmaker is trying to increase penalties, while critics argue it won’t prevent crime. 

Part 1: I-Team: Drivers fleeing from police on the rise in St. Louis area

“This happens on a daily basis," said Missouri Representative Justin Sparks (R-110th District), referring to drivers fleeing from police trying to stop them.

"Well, for most crimes now, law enforcement, especially in the St. Louis area, will not pursue. This is not a secret. And the secret I guess, the secret is out."

He said never in his 15 years of law enforcement has he ever seen so many drivers fleeing from police. 

“Suspects know that they can get away with a lot more... And what we would notice is that when they were in certain jurisdictions like St. Louis city or St. Louis County, they would drive 100 miles an hour or more with no police officers behind them. But when they would cross into, say, St. Charles... they slowed down to 60 miles an hour.” 

“So are you saying that people who disobey the law, they change their behavior based on what county they're in?” asked the I-Team's Paula Vasan.

“Absolutely. They're not stupid," said Sparks. "They know what jurisdictions will attempt to proactively come after them. And which jurisdictions will hold them accountable. I think that we have to have a minimum standard.”

He's proposed a new law: House Bill 1158 to increase accountability.

“Detective Valentine was killed in the line of duty by a suspect that was fleeing the police, who then rammed his vehicle into Detective Valentine's vehicle and both were killed," said Sparks. 

Valentine was killed in the line of duty in December 2021. He left behind four children, ages 10 to 22 years old. Valentine was an Army veteran, serving active duty from July 1999 to February 2000. He was a sergeant in the Army National Guard and later served in the Air Force Reserve. He was deployed to Iraq and Kyrgyzstan.

“What we're trying to do is with Valentine's law, it will increase the penalty for fleeing from the police. It will make it a felony. And in cases of when a suspect puts the public at risk of serious physical injury or death, then it becomes a Class B felony with required prison time. It's a pretty severe, significant consequence," said Sparks. 

He said the consequence of fleeing from police is sometimes a misdemeanor, a low-level offense. 

“If I could say, are there real consequences from running from the police right now? No. That's what we're trying to change," he said. 

“For people who don't feel like they have anything to lose, will a law prevent them from reckless driving?" asked Vasan.

“Good question. Will the law fix this problem? It will help. But it is not a silver bullet. You're right. What we can try to do is hold people accountable. It's one single thing that we're trying to do," he said. 

Research shows with the vast majority of crime, locking people up for longer doesn’t prevent crime. Critics argue the bill would just perpetuate mass incarceration. Representative Sparks thinks increasing penalties is the best option on the table. 

Want to contact Paula about this story or another investigative tip? Email paula@ksdk.com

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