La Salle County police officials: ‘One of the worst pieces of legislation that we’ve seen’

La Salle County to vote soon on asking state lawmakers to repeal police law

Former La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton speaks to the La Salle County Board Committee meeting on Monday, April 4, 2022 at the La Salle County Governmental Complex in Ottawa.

The La Salle County Board will vote soon on whether to ask – but not demand – that state lawmakers in Springfield repeal a law enforcement package enacted last year.

Monday, a group of active and retired law enforcement chiefs appeared before the county’s Committee on Appointment and Legislation and Rules and asked for a letter urging the Illinois General Assembly to overhaul Public Act 101-652.

The law was enacted early last year at the tail end of a five-day, lame duck session in January and voted after midnight with less than an hour for lawmakers to review hundreds of pages of sweeping changes.

“[This is] probably one of the worst pieces of legislation that we’ve seen,” said Tom Templeton, who retired as La Salle County sheriff about four months after the package was enacted. “This has nothing in it for the public. There’s nothing in it for the victims.”

With Templeton were a half dozen active and retired police chiefs who joined in urging the La Salle County Board to lobby Springfield to repeal the measure. Among them were Larry Langston, a retired Aurora police chief who resides in Serena.

Langston said the lack of proper debate on the bill before its pre-dawn vote was “ludicrous” and that the resulting law stripped or undermined important police protections, such as qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity has never immunized police from committed egregious acts,” he said, “but what it does is it secures in their hearts and their families and their homes that if they’re involved in a shooting, justified, they’re not going to lose their homes.”

Marseilles Mayor Jim Hollenbeck, who’s been in law enforcement 47 years, further noted the law created an online venue for police complaints that effectively opens investigations no matter how frivolous the complaint.

“Would you want to work in an occupation where anybody, at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, can make a complaint about you and put you through hell?” Hollenbeck said. “I’ve never seen anything so ludicrous and ridiculous in my life.”

Langston said the legislative changes were having real-time effects, led by rising violence against sworn officers. He said 101 law enforcement officers have shot in the line of duty this year, 17 fatally, which is 43% higher than in 2021 and 63% higher than in 2020.

Those arguments ultimately prevailed, even though the full board had previously tabled a vote. Board member Mike Kasap (D-La Salle) said his chief concern was the initial resolution was worded to “demand” Springfield repeal the law, while he preferred less confrontational language. Templeton and the gathered chiefs said they had no objection to substituting the word “request.”

With that semantic change in place, the committee unanimously recommended the repeal resolution go back to the full board. The full board next meets April 14.

Board member Randy Freeman (R-Lostant) indicated support for asking Springfield to gut the law.

“It’s not working,” Freeman said, citing the end of cash bonds as a primary concern. “Catch and release is crazy – it’s just insane.”

Other efforts are underway to reverse some of last year’s legislation. One pending measure, House Bill 4497, would reverse some of the unpopular provisions and which Templeton said that has the support of law enforcement. The best recourse, he said, is to overhaul Public Act 101-652.

“A good bill doesn’t get introduced at 4 o’clock in the morning and rammed through the Legislature,” Templeton said, adding later, “If it was a good bill it would have been passed in the light of day.

“All we ask is we open it, get back in it, get out some of the bizarre things.”