By Alicia Fabbre

Daily Southtown | Jan 15

Several area police chiefs and mayors are criticizing a sweeping criminal justice reform bill approved by Illinois lawmakers and awaiting the governor’s signature.

The bill, approved early Wednesday in the final hours of the General Assembly’s lame-duck session, would phase out cash bail and require every police department to outfit officers with body cameras. The bill also creates a system to decertify officers who engage in misconduct and opens the door for anonymous complaints against officers by eliminating the requirement for sworn affidavits.

“This bill, as a whole, basically protects the rights of criminals at the expense of law abiding citizens and police officers,” Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said. “This bill pretty much takes the position that all officers are inherently bad to begin with, and that’s just not true.”

Others said the legislation addresses issues of inequality and discrimination particularly with the elimination of cash bail. Judges will still have discretion to detain offenders believed to pose a risk, but other will no longer have to raise cash to get out of jail as they await trial.

“That is another step toward racial justice and equity,” said Rev Andrew Singleton, senior pastor at Victory Apostolic Church in Matteson. This summer, the church organized a rally that featured Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who spoke on the need for criminal justice reforms. The event drew more than 400 people and also included speeches by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Singleton, who also was part of a prison ministry team for several years, said eliminating cash bail can help prevent an already difficult situation for some from turning worse because people held in jail can face financial difficulties, job loss or experience harm.

In the first days of the lame duck session, the bill drew strong opposition from labor groups and law enforcement. Several, including Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, testified in opposition of the bill. Glasgow declined to comment this week after the bill’s approval.

The final bill eliminated some key points of contention including a measure that would have eliminated protections for police officers facing lawsuits alleging civil rights violations and another that withheld state funds from municipalities that did not comply with body camera requirements.

Sen. Michael Hastings, a Democrat from Frankfort, supported the legislation and said it a statement that, despite the last-minute introduction of some items, it was “blatantly false to say we did not know what we were voting on.”

He specifically noted changes to protect qualified immunity for police officers, stand up for collective bargaining rights oppose financial penalties for local governments that cannot afford to provide body cameras.

“There is no question in my mind bad actors have committed heinous acts outside of any established protocols in law enforcement,” Hastings said. “Officers should not be unjustly punished for making unintended mistakes, but we must do more to hold accountable those whose motives and actions cannot be justified.”

Sen. Patrick Joyce, a Democrat from Essex, said he was not comfortable enough with the bill to cast a vote.

“There was, I felt, still work that needed to be done,” Joyce said. “That’s why I didn’t vote yes. I couldn’t vote no, because I didn’t want to convey that I was against reform.”

Joyce, whose 40th District includes a large portion of Kankakee County and all or parts of Chicago Heights, Flossmoor, Frankfort, Matteson, Mokena, New Lenox, South Chicago Heights and University Park, said he agrees reform is needed but said the bill left too many open questions.

He said that before the bill’s approval, state’s attorneys were working with lawmakers to address their concerns about eliminating cash bail, but the final language did not address all the concerns. Joyce also questioned provisions that allow for anonymous complaints against officers.

Although the final bill eliminated a measure that would have dropped qualified immunity, which offers some protections to officers and municipalities facing lawsuits, the measure puts the issue of qualified immunity before a state board for review, according to a summary from the Illinois Municipal League.

“Although it’s not in there, it’s not off the table,” Tinley Park police Chief Matt Walsh said.

Walsh expressed concerns about unfunded mandates in the bill. For example, the bill sets a timetable for when municipalities must have the equipment in place, but offers no funding for the equipment.

Orland Park police Chief Joe Mitchell shared a statement on the department’s Facebook page expressing disappointment with the legislative action, but pledging to never waver from the mission of safeguarding residents.

Mitchell also noted the Village Board already approved the purchase of body cameras with plans to choose a vendor this spring, and has increased the police operating budget by 6%, supported a Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Unit and approved the purchase of equipment and tools to protect officers and assist in fighting and solving crime more effectively.

Law enforcement and local leaders said they will work on continuing to review the 700-page legislation, much of which does not take effect immediately, and plan to address concerns to state lawmakers.

Though Pritzker has not yet signed the legislation, he has indicated support for the measure.

“I have long held that an essential mark of good governance is a willingness to change the laws that have failed the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said, in a statement issued Wednesday. “This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation.”

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