CLAYTON (KMOV.com) - Some are criticizing the decision by new St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell to not criminally prosecute those who fail to pay child support.
Some who are fighting to get child support from an ex-spouse or partner are throwing up their hands, saying they are already having a hard time already. They believe the new policy will make receiving child support next to impossible.
Bell says if someone who fails to pay child support is not put in jail, that they will have an opportunity to work and pay child support.
“We are going to address this issue that is not being punitive because someone cannot pay or does not have financial means,” said Bell.
Bell said the new approach is similar with the rest of Missouri. He said most counties criminally prosecute about a dozen non-support cases a year.
“St. Louis City is less than 40 a year. St. Louis County is close to 530 in 2017. We’re getting in line with the rest of the state,” Bell said.
Court records show Bell was ordered by the court to pay child support in a paternity suit years ago. He says that has no bearing on his approach to matter.
Records obtained by News 4 show that Bell’s Director of Operations, former North County Co-op Police Chief Tim Swope, had his wages garnished to meet child support obligations.
Bell says any talk from critics that he and Swope are deadbeat dads comes with the territory.
While his office’s approach to not criminally prosecute for non-payment, Bell says jail time is not completely off the table, adding if someone clearly has the means but makes no attempt to support the family, that’s another matter.
An attorney that supports Bell’s approach said if the true goal is to have parents support their children, then it doesn't make sense to give a parent a felony conviction.
The St. Louis County Police Association said in a statement on Saturday they were "disappointed and discouraged" by the new internal policies put in place by Bell.
"The Police Officers of St. Louis County Police Association are disappointed and discouraged by the new internal policies of the St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney's Office, but remain hopeful that Mr. Bell himself will take immediate action to stop some of these changes and find a better and safer path to implement his platforms.
The decriminalization of failure to pay child support puts livelihoods of hardworking single parents in jeopardy, and more alarming, the abolishment of warrants of all D and E Class Felony offenses places the citizens of St. Louis County at risk for repeat victimization.
Law enforcement agencies throughout St. Louis County must now enforce the laws with one hand tied behind their backs. This comes at a time when manpower shortages are commonplace and the murder rate is the highest it is has ever been in the history of St. Louis County.
Many of the crimes that qualify for "summonses" rather than arrest warrants include shockingly heinous offenses.
Under Mr. Bell's new policy, warrants will not be issued and arrests will not be made for appalling crimes such as Rape 2nd Degree, Child Molestation 4th Degree, Sexual Contact with a student, Possession of Child Pornography, Abuse/Neglect of a Child, Burglary 2nd Degree, and Domestic Assault 2nd Degree.
The St. Louis County Police Association hopes that Mr. Bell reconsiders these changes which immediately impact St. Louis County's most vulnerable people,specifically, women and children.
We understand Mr. Bell has a vision and that change is expected, but many of these new policies are a step backwards for every citizen in St. Louis County and we know they share our concern for public safety.
We look forward to working together with Mr. Bell and his entire staff in the near future to address issues which so greatly impact our community."