Will County police reform advocates say critics are ‘fearmongering’ on changes in bill

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the sweeping reform bill on Monday

Activists lauded the signing of a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law by Gov. JB Pritzker while members of law enforcement continued to express concern over several provisions.

Pritzker signed the bill during a ceremony on Monday at Chicago State University with members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus who were key to passing the bill in the General Assembly.

The bill, an amendment to H.B. 3653, includes an end to cash bail, a requirement for body cameras for all officers and an aim to establish use-of-force standards statewide, and grants more state power over who can be a member of law enforcement, among other provisions.

Several members of law enforcement in Will County have voiced deep concerns over the implications of several provisions once they go into effect.

Rockdale Police Chief Rober Dykstra said he feared the changes in the law were a “knee jerk” reaction to the protests last year in response to high-profile killings of African Americans at the hands of police officers.

Specifically, he said, use of force changes would make it more difficult for officers to handle situations like removing individuals who are trespassing.

“We’re not opposed to reform,” Dykstra said. “Our profession has changed drastically.”

But, he added, the reforms in the law are “not going to make Illinois safer.”

James Reilly, the 2018 Republican nominee for Will County sheriff and an adjunct professor of criminal and social justice at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, previously told The Herald-News he fears the changes will drive some officers away from the profession.

But supporters argued many of the reforms in the law are long overdue for a criminal justice system which has led to higher rates of incarceration and mistreatment of people of color.

In Joliet, reform advocates have decried the City Council for not moving fast enough to implement changes like equipping officers with body cameras. Activists have been especially vocal since the release of squad car video depicting the overdose of Eric Lurry last year, who died in Joliet police custody.

Joliet resident Candice Quinerly said with the new law, activists will finally be able to see reforms they’ve pushed for implemented at the local level.

“It’s going to force the City Council’s hand to expeditiously address the things we’ve been fighting for for nine months,” she said.

Quinerly said it was unfortunate opponents of the law were engaging in “fearmongering and misdirection.”

Ernest Crim, a teacher at Joliet Central High School and frequent critic of the Joliet City Council, argued the reforms are just a first step for fostering more “equity” in underserved communities.

Crim rejected the claim that such changes would make residents less safe and encourage more crime. He said officers are asked to do too much in responding to situations which require a more holistic public safety response.

“More policing does not prevent crime,” he said. “What prevents crime in the long term is providing people with resources.”

Pritzker on Monday also rebuffed criticisms of the new law. He argued the reforms will create a more “equitable and safe” criminal justice system in Illinois.

“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 fearmonger in defense of the status quo.”

H.B. 3653 is effective July 1 though certain provisions, like use of force changes, will take effect in the coming years.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.