Why chiefs and legislators must work together on pending laws

Chief Steven Casstevens of the Buffalo Grove (Ill.) Police Department urged police leaders to interact with line officers to inform them of potentially adverse pending legislation, and ask them how the proposal would affect their ability to do their job

In Illinois there are four — count ‘em, four! — bills introduced that would prohibit, in the words of one proposal “a method by which a person holds another person by putting his or her arm around the other person's neck ... and includes, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe...” 

The “Officer Chokehold Prohibition Act” (quoted above) provides an exemption for an officer who would be justified in using deadly force, but in all other cases the penalty would be a minimum of five years in prison for the officer who uses such a technique. 

Earlier this year, Chief Steven Casstevens of the Buffalo Grove (Ill.) Police Department spoke to trainers at ILEETA’s opening ceremony and urged the membership to stay aware of efforts in legislatures across the country that are making ill-informed policy decisions for local police. 

Legislators Rely on Chiefs for Input
Casstevens — on the executive board of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and seeking a Vice-Presidency in the International Association of Chiefs of Police — urges police leaders to vigorously educate their legislators about law enforcement. 

A state representative once confessed to Casstevens that with the hundreds of proposals every session, if a police-related bill isn’t actively opposed by law enforcement, the assumption is that it is a good law. An example is an “anti-quota” bill that became law. Casstevens explained that the bill would make it illegal for him to send an officer to a citizen’s complaint of speeding in the neighborhood. If a chief instructs the officers to write tickets, he risks breaking the anti-quota law.

The so-called “choke hold” law would have dangerous consequences. Casstevens noted that a struggle on the street for a resisting arrestee can’t be choreographed to avoid the possibility of contact with a suspect’s neck. He noted that every high school wrestler would be allowed to do what a police officer would face felony charges for. 

Chiefs Must be Informed on Pending Legislation
Chief Casstevens emphasized that these bills are not just political posturing. The representatives supporting them fully intend and expect that they will become law. Legislative policy making as a “knee jerk reaction to a specific incident” ignores the layers of accountability that already exist. 

“Local elected officials are the oversight,” Casstevens said. He pointed to accreditation and the courts as providing appropriate accountability without legislative micromanagement. 

Casstevens also urged police leaders to interact with line officers to inform them of potentially adverse legislation, and to ask them how a proposal would affect their ability to do their job. This is important information leaders can share with representatives and with law enforcement lobbyists. 

Police Leaders Must Prioritize Public Education
Citizen’s academies, ridealongs, and coffee-with-cops programs have an impact. Invite your state and local officials to them. Casstevens reminds us that traffic contacts are the number one police-citizen interaction. Building trust and professionalism there creates millions of opportunities. “Every single officer can make an impact.”

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