Key Black state lawmakers expect reform bill to improve police-community relations — but cops say it would make Illinois ‘unsafe’

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Chokeholds and cash bail would be relegated to the past, and better police training and statewide use of officer body cameras part of the present and future under a criminal justice bill that key Democratic members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus expect to pass the state Legislature in the coming days.

State Sen. Elgie Sims Jr. and state Rep. Justin Slaughter, both of Chicago, brushed aside law enforcement criticism of the bill they helped hammer out as “fear mongering.”

“The intent of the proposal is to improve the profession of policing and improve the relationship between communities and law enforcement,” Sims said. “That’s the goal.”

The caucus has been working on the sweeping package of criminal justice reforms since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, which rocked the nation last May and renewed demands to finally try to solve the problems between police officers and communities of color.

The proposed legislation is broad, including everything from ending cash bail to expanding police training on use of force, crisis training and prohibiting chokeholds.

It also includes requiring the use of body cameras statewide by 2025, the maintenance of police misconduct records and the use of special prosecutors in officer-involved deaths.

“We wanted to look at this comprehensively and on multiple levels and different levels of the criminal justice system, and so that’s why you do see a broad and ambitious initiative that takes a detailed look at sentencing reform, policing and then, also, violence reduction,” Slaughter said.

State Rep. Justin Q. Slaughter, D-Chicago

State Rep. Justin Q. Slaughter, D-Chicago
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

“These are the areas that, in particular, we thought needed to be reformed and that we wanted to prioritize,” Slaughter said. “These are measures that look at keeping people from the Black community from touching the system or further touching the system.”

And for those already “in the system, how are we looking at both fairness and comprehensive, impactful rehabilitation?” he said.

“We feel good about what’s in the package.”

A coalition of the state’s law enforcement leadership said in a statement Wednesday the “so-called ‘reforms’” in the bill “would destroy law enforcement’s ability to keep communities safe.”

They urged lawmakers to “avoid making a sudden, rash decision and instead work carefully with all stakeholders to truly examine what needs to be done regarding law enforcement in Illinois.”

“The authors of this legislation are not law enforcement professionals with hundreds of years of combined experience and this bill was drafted without law enforcement input, and because of that the long-term unintended consequences of this legislation would be dire,” the statement reads in part. “The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition recently enumerated its Safe Communities plan, a sensible approach to modernizing Illinois law enforcement, but House Bill 163 as amended would lead to unsafe communities in Illinois.”

Chicago police investigate the scene of a shooting in West Englewood in June.

Chicago police investigate the scene of a shooting in West Englewood in June.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Sims said the statement from the coalition is just “fear mongering.”

“It’s not an accurate statement, and it’s certainly not reflective of the intent of the proposed legislation, nor the outcome,” Sims said. “We can disagree about what a particular proposal does, but that’s certainly not the intent … and that will not be the result of the proposal if adopted.”

The Chicago senator said he fully expects the bill to pass, though “it’s possible” that there could be changes made to its language before it does.

“This is a proposal where we are certainly open to continued discussions, to the give and take of legislative policymaking,” Sims said.

It’s taken the group months to get to this point.

The caucus had subject matter hearings throughout the early fall and has had its own meetings with advocacy groups from all sides to craft and draft the legislation, the senator said.

The criminal justice bill is one of four omnibus bills that the Black Caucus has introduced and that legislators will hear, and likely vote on, during the lame duck session that begins Friday.

The bills are based on the four pillars outlined in the caucus agenda: criminal justice reform, violence reduction and police accountability; education and workforce development; economic access, equity and opportunity; and health care and human services.

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January 7, 2021 at 04:02PM

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