McHenry County officials respond to Pritzker’s signing of criminal justice reform bill

McHenry County sheriff calls bill a ‘blatant move to obstruct an entire, honorable profession’

A criminal justice omnibus bill that aims to eliminate cash bail and introduce new police reform has been met with criticism by some McHenry County police and politicians.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed House Bill 3653, also known as the “Safe-T Act,” on Monday. The legislation will set in motion steps toward abolishing cash bail, overhauling police certification and reforming use-of-force standards, among other provisions.

Proponents of the bill celebrated its passage Monday, claiming the legislation would make communities safer while challenging systematic racism in the criminal justice system. But the bill also has received criticism from some local officials, who hope a series of trailer bills will clean up “ambiguous and conflicting language.”

“We support police accountability, certification measures, robust training, and the use of body worn cameras,” Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said in an official statement. Black also is the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “We agree with the reform concepts contained in this bill; however, we are opposed to the current ambiguous and conflicting language in many segments of this legislation. We have been labeled as obstructionist and fear mongers by some members of the General Assembly. This could not be further from the truth.”

The legislation, an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, passed through the House on Jan. 13. The Senate met to debate the bill about 4 a.m. that day before the measure passed, 32-to-23, around 5 a.m. From there, it moved to the House floor, which voted with less than an hour to spare before the new General Assembly’s inauguration.

In an emailed statement Monday, McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim called the bill a “blatant move to obstruct an entire, honorable profession.”

“This law passed through the legislature under the cover of darkness, with no ability for additional insight,” Prim said. “Since January, we have had a team of our leadership and attorneys digesting this bill to fully understand its effects and implementations. We are currently in compliance with many of the mandates and will continue to study this law to gain additional insight.”

In terms of police reform, the bill overhauls police certification standards and creates uniform procedures for misconduct investigations. The bill also requires all police agencies to eventually implement officer-worn body cameras and sets a 2023 deadline to eliminate cash bail statewide.

“In short, 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 during a news conference on Monday.

State Rep. Suzanne Ness, D-Crystal Lake, said she hopes that planned trailer bills will unite law enforcement and proponents of the current bill.

“Fundamentally, I support the goals and ambitions of this bill as do several of the law enforcement officers that I’ve spoken with,” Ness said on Monday.

Ness, too, was unsettled by how quickly the bill passed, she said. Moving forward, she hopes to bridge the conversation between local stakeholders and lawmakers, she said.

State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, was critical of the bill’s passage in an official statement Monday. Although Weber supports police and criminal justice reform, “this was absolutely not the way to do it,” he said.

“Vital stakeholders and the public were not given the time nor the consideration of their input,” Weber said. “Again, I don’t oppose reform, I oppose this specific legislation and the process that produced it.”

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.