LE coalition opposes Illinois ‘anti-police' bill and here’s why

The SAFE-T Act restricts LE’s ability to pursue offenders and make arrests


On February 22, 2021, Governor JB Pritzker signed the SAFE-T (Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity – Today) Act, saying it will help dismantle “systemic racism,” improve policing and make Illinois communities safer for everyone. An Illinois law enforcement coalition disagrees.

The bill was an urgent initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus early in 2021 to get it passed before Illinois’ lame-duck session ended in mid-January.

The caucus succeeded, beating the end-of-session deadline with only 30 minutes to spare.

Flanked by lawmakers and supporters, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law during a ceremony at Chicago State University on the South Side, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.
Flanked by lawmakers and supporters, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law during a ceremony at Chicago State University on the South Side, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Provisions of the SAFE-T Act

Among the major provisions of the 764-page omnibus bill:

  • Ends monetary bail in 2023 and gives discretion to judges. Eliminates all references to “bond” and “bail” and replaces them with “pretrial detention.”
  • Restricts use of force by officers while pursuing an offender or making an arrest if an officer reasonably believes the person can be apprehended at a later date, which is often the case.
  • Makes it a felony for an officer not to comply with laws and department policies requiring the use of body-worn cameras, and prohibits officers from reviewing their own body camera video before writing a report. 
  • Makes body cameras mandatory for all LE agencies by 2025, whether or not more funding is made available.
  • Requires three phone calls for detainees within three hours of being in custody, with no regard for whether other suspects from the same incident might be on the loose or the detainee is physically or mentally incapable of making those calls within three hours.
  • Allows the Illinois attorney general to impose a civil penalty against an individual officer of up to $25,000 initially and up to $50,000 for a second offense. This would be for an alleged “pattern and practice” of violating a person’s constitutional rights.
  • Makes it illegal to shoot a TASER at someone’s back, pelvis and head – despite the fact that the back is a recommended target in all of the training.
  • Allows for anonymous complaints against officers without a sworn affidavit.
  • Prohibits an officer from making a custodial arrest for Class B misdemeanors, which includes criminal trespass and window peekers. Instead, an officer is required to issue a citation and has no authority to remove a person from private or public property unless they are being threatening. (See graphic from the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association below.)
  • Did not end qualify immunity – yet – but created a task force to study the issue and provide a report by May 1, 2021. Eliminating qualified immunity was in the bill until a final amendment pulled it out in the eleventh hour.

Robust decertification process

One section of the bill the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police largely supported will strengthen our ability to get rid of bad cops through a more robust decertification process.

The bill’s language was negotiated over a period of months with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who initially raised the idea of “licensing” but always said Illinois does not need police licensing if we can agree on a process to decertify unworthy officers and prevent them from getting jobs in other departments. To everyone’s surprise, all of this agreed language was moved from a separate bill into the final omnibus bill.

Coalition opposed final omnibus bill

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the final omnibus bill, as did a newly developed law enforcement coalition that also includes the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, the FOP State Lodge, the FOP Labor Council, the FOP Troopers Lodge and FOP Lodge 7 (Chicago).

“In signing this bill into law,” the coalition said, “Governor Pritzker chose to listen to a few strident political voices rather than the 120,000 petition-signing citizens who plainly saw the bill for what it is. This new law is a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most.”

The president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief James R. Black of suburban Crystal Lake, Illinois, said in a statement that the association supports reforms and police modernization such as stronger accountability, certification measures, robust training, and the use of body-worn cameras, but not much of the ambiguous language in this flawed bill. Black participated in many hours of hearings and Zoom calls with legislators and other law enforcement leaders before the final bill was introduced. He also talked about the Chiefs’ support for reforms in testimony before House and Senate committees in Springfield.

Primary explanations heard from those supporting the bill are general statements like, “We have to do something” and, “The time is now for reform.” One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), said the bill signifies a movement “from protest to progress.” The sad truth is it’s an illogical leap from “We’ve got to do something” to “We have to support and sign this problematic 764-page bill.” The bill’s problems were well-documented in these fact sheets and updates.

As President Black said in his statement, legislators already have admitted that a trailer bill is needed to fix the serious language problems. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police is working on that language now.

Just before the governor signed the bill, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police posted a letter on Facebook predicting a significant departure of officers from Illinois if the bill is signed. Written as an open letter to the governor by Ed Delmore, a former Illinois chief who is now the police chief in Gulf Shores, Alabama, he said the new law would end his recruiting problems because officers from Illinois would be contacting him en masse to relocate. His letter was shared more than 3,000 times on social media and had tens of thousands of “engagements,” and he made a brief appearance on Fox News, which picked the story up.

In short, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police believes the law removes safeguards that are currently in place that now protect officers and citizens, and it includes language that will embolden criminals. The unintended consequences of this bill will be detrimental to citizens and communities across the state.

advocacy Lessons

The law feels so devastating that it is challenging to say that there are any lessons to be identified, but for agencies facing similar challenges, we offer the following:

  • Building a public law enforcement coalition with the Illinois Sheriffs and FOP State Lodge and speaking as one voice gave us more muscle. The legislators took notice, and some don’t like the strength that we are showing.
  • In messaging, we found providing examples of why certain language was bad was effective. People could repeat the examples and say, “This can’t be true.” On the other hand, our accurate examples were dissed by the bill’s sponsors as “lies” and “not true,” and they caused our governor to take the cheap shot of calling us fear mongers and obstructionists.
  • Our most effective message was the open letter to the governor from the Alabama chief (see in full below) who said Illinois officers would be leaving our state in droves for police-friendly departments in states like his.
  • We have agreement from the sponsors that immediate cleanup language in a trailer bill would be welcome. So, we are working from many angles to get the best cleanup language we can without gutting the bill, which the sponsors would not accept.
  • We were grateful to find one high-ranking official, our attorney general, who was willing to discuss actual language with us. We engaged in many productive conversations on language with him to strengthen our state’s decertification process. And with those conversations, we were able to avoid a new “licensing” system for officers.
  • Our Black chiefs, in a candid Zoom conversation, told us that we need to understand the festering frustration in the black community about police over a long period of time and that they themselves, as Black men and women, have been victims of police profiling. That is upsetting to hear, and we plan to continue to acknowledge it. We issued this public statement in response, and hope it helps in future conversations with the Black community. These are difficult but important conversations.
  • Black Caucus leaders told us late last year “there would be a bill” and “you probably won’t like it.” These leaders are not our adversaries, and we remain in conversation about our concerns and their perspectives. We have each other’s cell numbers, and we text and call, but the political winds are against us with a Democratic legislature and Democratic governor. No reason to burn bridges, though.
  • We have been out front, and will continue to be, in saying we support police modernization and criminal justice reforms, particularly with use of force, body cameras, getting rid of bad cops and some other high-profile issues. This helps us avoid being unfairly painted as obstructionists, which we are not.
  • We made it our number one priority to say it’s a terrible idea to get rid of qualified immunity. We said it over and over again and we explained why. We convinced the moderate legislators of this, and at the very last minute, the sponsors pulled this idea out of the bill.

Click here to access all of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police resources regarding House Bill 3653, the SAFE-T Act.

NEXT: Building trust one conversation at a time: How the Illinois NAACP and Illinois police chiefs work together

Alabama Chief's Letter by epraetorian on Scribd

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