Eye On Illinois: Police reform trailer bill shows compromise remains possible

We still have police officers, right?

It’s a question I like to ask every few months, given the outrage over the February enactment of House Bill 3653, which lawmakers and law enforcement organizations labeled “anti-police” and “a “blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession.”

Thus far, predictions many officers would simply quit the profession or pursue jobs in other states have gone unfulfilled. (Don’t overlook the role of pension benefits in such career decisions.) In fact, not only has a mass exodus not materialized, but the makers and enforcers of laws actually seem to have been working together and many are satisfied with the result.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, introduced an amendment to House Bill 3443 that changes some portions of earlier criminal justice reform legislation, and did so with support of the Illinois State Police as well as the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

These amendments expand the conditions under which police may use deadly force, according to Capitol News Illinois, to include situations where an officer determines that’s the only way to apprehend a violent felon who is likely to cause great injury to another person. If police neutralize the harm, then they must not use deadly force.

Other changes include clarifying that officers can use headlocks around a suspect’s forehead or chin so long as they don’t apply direct pressure that inhibits breathing. It also now is harder for prosecutors to charge officers with misconduct, a Class 3 felony, as they must allege knowledge and intent to obstruct the law.

“We remain concerned about unresolved and unaddressed issues,” the IACP said in a statement, “but in recent months we have strengthened a process of negotiating honestly and in good faith with legislators about criminal justice reform.”

Those concerns are logical, including a lack of state funding for mandated body cameras and the ability for the attorney general to directly penalize individuals for civil infractions instead of their departments or municipal employer.

A few legislative Republicans voted in favor of Sims’ amendment, and it seems likely those officials will continue to advocate for further negotiations on unresolved disputes. The work on police reform continues elsewhere through the Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies and a two-year process of developing uniform standards for pretrial release.

There will be bickering along the way — even Sims’ amendment drew blowback from another Chicago Democrat, Rep. Curtis Tarver, who was upset it wasn’t presented to the entire Black Caucus before going up for full votes — and no guarantee everyone ends up satisfied.

Yet it’s important to remember no statute is immutable, compromise remains possible and real work happens when we tone down doomsday rhetoric to focus on achievable goals.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.