Local police denounce ‘anti-police’ legislation

Governor defends signing bill, saying it is a step toward dismantling systemic racism

“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.”

—  Gov. JB Pritzker

Local sheriffs and police chiefs wasted no time Monday condemning Gov. JB Pritzker for enacting sweeping legislation that mandates body cameras, eliminates cash bond and requires police to let a fleeing suspect go in certain situations.

House Bill 3653 was enacted at a midday ceremony presided by Pritzker, who declined to use his amendatory veto powers to strike provisions that police had denounced as onerous and in which they fear will drive out sworn officers and scare off future recruits.

“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.

“Obviously, the governor doesn’t care what downstate Illinois thinks.”

—  Bureau County Sheriff Jim Reed

Bureau County Sheriff Jim Reed said he watched the signing ceremony and said there were flat-out lies uttered at the podium, led by the misstatement that police actively were consulted about the contents of the bill. They weren’t.

“Obviously, the governor doesn’t care what downstate Illinois thinks,” Reed said. “There were 120,000 signatures against this bill, and for him not to even take a second look? I’m just very disappointed.”

Peru Police Doug Bernabei said he, too, was “extremely disappointed” in the governor.

“I had hoped he was not the typical politician,” Bernabei said. “Apparently, he is no different than the rest of those tied to special interest groups. There is no doubt he should have vetoed the bill and sent it back for meaningful legislation.”

Pritzker took to social media to defend the legislation, issuing a series of statements about how the bill was perceived versus how it actually will play out. Pritzker decried the “myth” that the bill was rushed through without external input, as the measure resulted from nine public hearings, 30 hours of testimony and meetings with law enforcement, community members and advocates.

But two police chiefs pointed out that the bill largely was crafted 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.

“When they push it through in the middle of the night,” La Salle Police Chief Mike Smudzinski said, “nothing good is going to come of it.”

Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson agreed that there should have been revisions before Pritzker signed it.

“I am hopeful that a trailer bill will follow for guidance and clarification on some of the changes as well as funding for these changes,” Roalson said. “I agree reform in the criminal justice system is needed, but I do not feel that this bill, which has now been signed into law, will resolve the needed reform.”

Pritzker also dismissed the argument that the bill is “overly punitive of police officers,” saying that the bill expands training opportunities for officers and protects them from unjust lawsuits and sets statewide standards on force, crowd control, deescalation and arrest techniques so that officers have clarity.

But state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, issued a statement saying the governor enacted HB 3653 despite overwhelming opposition from law enforcement agencies. Rezin and state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, both voted against the bill. Eighty-three percent of law enforcement officers believe this legislation diminishes their ability to respond to calls, Rezin said, and 99% believe this legislation will embolden criminals.

“Throughout this process, the concerns of our law enforcement agencies have been ignored making our communities less safe.”

—  Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris)

“By ignoring the calls for veto, the governor has effectively told law enforcement officers that they don’t know how to safely and fairly do their jobs,” Rezin said. “Throughout this process, the concerns of our law enforcement agencies have been ignored, making our communities less safe.”

Pritzker also termed “a myth” the notion the bill defunds the police when it requires more investments into officer training, mental health and officer wellness and the use of body cameras.

There, local police chief agree in part: The bill will indeed require more training and body cameras, but it will be an unfunded mandate, a bill local taxpayers will have to foot.

Oglesby Police Chief Doug Hayse said Oglesby is looking at an initial outlay of $65,000, and that’s just to obtain to get the camera program off the ground.

“And the biggest cost of the body cameras is the data storage,” Hayse said. “I’ve heard from police friends who’ve tried body cameras, and they’ve said the storage and retrieval of that data is staggering. It requires a lot of manpower.

“I don’t know how we would do it,” he said. “I have one employee who already does that kind of work, and she’s buried.”

La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said the costs are by no means limited to cameras. He sees a number of added costs that “clearly will be prohibitive” for cities and counties across the state as they struggle to comply with the sprawling new law.

“I don’t know where the money is coming from,” Templeton said. “They talk about grants but this sounds like unfunded mandates to me.”

Templeton said he’s been in law enforcement 50 years, and he’s never seen legislation that was “so anti-police, anti-victim and pro-offender” as what was enacted Monday.

Pritzker said the reforms will create a more “equitable and safe” criminal justice system in Illinois.

“Opponents of this don’t want any change.”

—  Gov. JB Pritzker

“Opponents of this law don’t want any change,” Pritzker said Monday. They “don’t believe there is any injustice in the system and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fear monger in defense of the status quo.”

Organizations, such as the Alliance for Safety and Justice, commended the signing of the bill, saying it prioritizes rehabilitation and supports communities most affected by crime but least served by the current criminal justice system. The legislation’s reforms include improvements to the state’s sentence credit program to reduce recidivism and over-incarceration, as well as a lowering of barriers for crime survivors to access victim services.

HB 3653 is effective July 1, although certain provisions, such as use of force changes, will take effect in the coming years.

– Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.