METROPOLIS, Ill. — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a criminal justice omnibus bill backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Monday, abolishing cash bail, overhauling police certification and reforming use-of-force standards among numerous other provisions.
“It’s going to be a major shift in how the criminal justice system operates,” Massac County State’s Attorney Josh Stratemeyer told the Massac County Commission Tuesday. “I think it’s going to be tremendously destructive to our community … I don’t think anybody has an idea right now of all the unintended consequences that are going to happen because of this.”
Pritzker signed the legislation, House Bill 3653, referred to as the “Safe-T Act,” during an event at Chicago State University alongside members of his administration and lawmakers from the Black Caucus.
“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation, and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Pritzker said.
Local officials take a different view.
“It’s going to put a big damper on the way we do business in law enforcement and will add more money into training and other mandates we’re going to have to do, such as body cams and storage,” Harry Masse, Metropolis Director of Public Safety, told the Metropolis City Council Monday night. “It’s a poorly written law, in my opinion.”
Massac County Sheriff Chad Kaylor said: “People will see that we will have a much different response in the future that they will not be happy about.”
While the legislation received grassroots support from activists, buoyed by the growing national concern over policing following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year, the bill faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups.
“I do not support the actions taken by our governor today to enact a law that will make it harder for police officers to do their jobs,” State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) said. “I stand in support of my local law enforcement officers and agencies who have vocally opposed this legislation.”
Opponents of the legislation have said it will result in a less safe Illinois and have criticized the process behind its development as lacking in transparency without proper input from Republican lawmakers and the public at large.
Proponents say HB 3653 will make Illinois safer by making the justice system more equitable for Black, Latino, low-income and minority communities that have been disproportionately harmed by disparate policies in sentencing, incarceration and policing.
Members of the Black Caucus have countered claims against the bill’s transparency by pointing to nine subject matter hearings held by the caucus in state Senate committees between September and November. For nearly 30 hours, lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement, judges, state’s attorneys, legal experts and representatives of the court, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office hashed out many of the issues that became provisions in the bill, such as the abolition of cash bail by 2023 and police certification.
“As a member of the Illinois House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee, I was the lead for House Republicans in questioning the sponsor of HB 3653 on the day it passed,” 118th District State Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) said. “I voted ‘no’ on the bill because there were too many flaws in the bill’s language, the process shut out the public and the changes in the law will make the public and police officers less safe.”
The office of the governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul had working meetings over several months starting in July with representatives from both chambers and parties, Fraternal Order of Police groups, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.
“The bill was put together without any law enforcement input. I agree with some parts of the bill, but overall I disagree with it,” Kaylor said.
The actual written legislation was introduced to the General Assembly during the five-day lame duck session in January, where lawmakers attempted to pass a year’s-worth of laws in a legislative blitz following the disruption of the regular session by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“House Bill 3653 was rammed through the General Assembly in a closed-door process that left Republican lawmakers, law enforcement officials and members of the public out of the discussion. We cannot pass meaningful reforms if the process is one-sided,” Fowler said.
The final version of the bill was introduced after midnight on the final day of the lame-duck, where it received just enough votes to pass both chambers with less than an hour of floor-debate.
“The Senate passed HB 3653 as amended at 5 in the morning. The House passed it six hours later in the waning moments of the 101st General Assembly,” Windhorst said. “Crafting strong public policy requires sufficient time for debate and doing the hard work of bringing all interested stakeholders to the table. That did not happen with this bill. I disagree strongly with Gov. Pritzker’s irresponsible decision to move forward with signing this legislation, even though he knows there are major problems that exist in the law. Even supporters of the legislation acknowledge that future legislation will be necessary to correct some of the more problematic parts of the HB 3653 that was signed into law.”
Here is a glimpse at what HB 3653, now law, does.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, all bail bonds and conditions of bail will be replaced by a system of pretrial release to be developed by the Illinois courts based on a detainee’s alleged crime, their risk of not appearing for their court date, and the threat or danger they may pose to an individual or community if released. Illinois is the first state to completely abolish cash bail by statute.
In short, Masse explained: “Anything you’re arrested for that doesn’t involve violence or commit a burglary, you’ll be released on your signature as soon as we’re done processing you.”
Exceptions from pretrial release under the new law include forcible felonies.
“The elimination of cash bail will also have negative effects,” Kaylor said. “I’ve seen time and time again someone who is addicted to meth get arrested for possessing meth. Under this bill, they will be released back out shortly. That person is going to continue to use meth. I’ve seen countless times how a meth addict gets sober sitting in jail. Massac County has been using rehabilitation centers for years to try and clean these addicts up. Sitting in jail many times is the only way to force someone into rehab.”
Stratemeyer agreed. “Right now, we have some success of sending people from jail to treatment. We won’t have that ability any more. I don’t think we’re doing anybody any favors by doing that,” he said.
Stratemeyer noted pretrial detention can “make a big difference” for the Massac County Jail.
“If you look at our jail sheet right now, the vast majority of those we’re holding pretrial don’t meet the new law’s qualifications of it being a forceable felony, and it has to be a non-probational forceable felony to be held pretrial. And even if they meet both of those, it would be up to the judge to determine to hold that person pretrial and it’s the state’s burden to show that person needs to be held pretrial. There’s a very good likelihood it would substantially affect our jail population.”
Use of force
House Bill 3653 establishes the intent of the General Assembly to establish statewide use-of-force standards by 2022. It changes current standards by banning chokeholds and any actions that restrict breathing being used above the chest unless in a situation that authorizes deadly force.
Under the law, use of force is allowed only when it is necessary for the officer to defend themselves or others from bodily harm when making an arrest. When a suspect is attempting to escape arrest, officers are authorized to use deadly force only if that person is unable to be caught at a later date and is likely to harm others.
Officers must make a reasonable effort to identify themselves as law enforcement and warn suspects before they can use deadly force, with some exceptions. Law enforcement is prohibited from using deadly force against individuals committing property crimes unless that crime is tied to terrorism or to another crime or action where deadly force is permitted.
The law also creates a duty to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, and a duty to provide medical assistance to injured persons regardless of who they are.
“You get a criminal trespass and the person refuses to leave, we’ll get there and write a ticket and we’re gone; we can’t force him to leave,” Masse explained. “You get an active shooter at a school that shoots eight or 10 people, runs away, we go after him, we know who it is, they’re not firing at us, we have to let them go. It’s ridiculous.”
Even if “a person is naked and intoxicated walking down the street screaming and yelling, we arrive and issue them a citation and drive away. We cannot force the person off the street,” Kaylor said.
Those types of examples raise “concerns about people taking matters into their own hands if law enforcement’s hands are tied,” Stratemeyer said. “That’s a scary proposition, too. There’s also a lot of provisions that will affect law enforcement and how law enforcement does their job.”
The new law also makes body cameras mandatory for law enforcement agencies statewide. All agencies, no matter how small, must have body cameras implemented by 2025 — that includes Metropolis and Massac County. The law does not include statutory funding for departments to comply with the law.
Kaylor added that if an officer doesn’t turn the body cam on during an incident, they could be penalized for it.
While both see the benefits of body cams, Masse and Kaylor expressed concern for the other side of that coin — it’s not the price of the body cams, it’s the cost of storage.
“When you’re looking at six or seven deputies working throughout the day, the storage is going to be a big problem because that stuff’s not cheap,” Kaylor told the county commission Tuesday, adding he will probably have to hire a civilian to manage the downloading, storage, duplication and FOIA requests for the footage because no law enforcement is allowed to touch the footage because it’d be a conflict of interest.
Masse noted the law doesn’t set parameters for FOIA request costs.
The bill also contains numerous provisions on sentencing reform, equipment procurement for law enforcement, victim services, mental health services, officer training, police certification, prisoner and detainee rights, among others.
“There are different offenses that aren’t arrestable any more,” Kaylor said. “We’ll have to put something out letting officers know what they can and can’t do. We’ll probably take it in steps with policy changes.”
Stratemeyer said the law shows “the reality of Illinois — southern Illinois’ realities are completely different from the system in Cook County, the Metro-East area. You’re legislating for an entire state and there has to be a balance there — unfortunately that balance didn’t play out.
“(The law is) going to make for a lot of changes, and very few, if any of them, I see are good changes overall.”
One of them, Stratemeyer noted, may be the future of law enforcement itself. “We talk with police officers every day and those who are able to and close to retirement age, they’re not going to stick around,” he said. “And I think you’ll see a difference in the pool and quality of candidates that you have for those positions.”
Supporters and opponents of the new law agreed there is a need for follow-up legislation to address unintended consequences.
“Now that we’ve had adequate time to work through the nearly 800-page bill, we know that it makes sweeping changes to the criminal justice system of our state, endangers our communities by eliminating cash bail and places an unfunded financial burden on our local police forces,” Fowler said.
“We had a real opportunity to work together to pass substantive reforms to provide for a safer Illinois. We can achieve so much more for our state if we work together. It’s disappointing and frustrating.”
The job for legislators now, Windhorst said, is “the difficult work required to fix this law so Illinoisans can be confident that police officers have the tools they need to keep the public safe, and that police officers are not hampered in doing their job so that they can continue to protect and serve our communities. As I will remain a member of the Illinois House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee for the 102nd General Assembly, I will work diligently to make sure the flaws in this newly signed law get corrected.”
Stratemeyer is hopeful corrections can happen. “As a police officer, I don’t know how you’re able to go about your job with any certainty. There may be some trailer bills they pass that cleans up some of that language, but as it stands right now, it is a mess,” he said. “And it’s going to continue to be a mess for awhile. I don’t think we’ll know the full consequences for years down the road.”
Information on the House Bill 3653 was written by Raymon Troncoso with Capitol News Illinois.