Maurice West: Gov. JB Pritzker will sign expansive criminal justice reform bill

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ROCKFORD — An expansive piece of legislation that does away with cash bail, equips all Illinois law enforcement officers with body cameras and creates a standardized use-of-force training for all officers, among other things, sits on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk awaiting his approval.

If the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association has its way, Illinois House Bill 3653, passed Jan. 13 by the General Assembly, will not become law — at least not as written.

"We’re encouraging him to veto the bill as drafted," said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the association. "I don’t know if that is going to happen, but that is certainly our request at this time."

Sheriff’s view:Pritzker should veto police reform bill, bring police to the table

Jim Kaitschuk

The original bill, formerly known as House Bill 163, would have eliminated qualified immunity for law enforcement, eliminated significant collective bargaining rights, and reduced funding to units of local government that failed to implement police body cameras.

That bill, however, was met with strong opposition and was never voted on. Instead, House Bill 3653, which stripped away the controversial language, was passed.

Kaitschuk said he and other members of law enforcement are OK with what he called the bill’s expanded and enhanced decertification process to "get rid of the bad actors" because the language was crafted in collaboration between law enforcement and the state Attorney General.

Policing the police:Reform bill approved by Illinois legislature could remove ‘bad apples’ from police forces

As for other parts of the bill, he said:

"We’re still going through it to try to figure out what are some of the most egregious provisions that need to change, whether they were intended or unintended consequences. We want to identify those concerns and is there a way to work through them and still protect members of our community?"

American Civil Liberty Union spokesman Ed Yohnka said complaints that the bill will defund police departments are not true.

Ed Yohnka

"There is no way, shape, or form that this bill defunds police in Illinois," he said. "What it does do is it takes another step toward increasing police accountability across the state of Illinois."

Use-of-force tactics like chokeholds will be prohibited and officers will have a duty to intervene whenever an officer sees another using excessive or unauthorized force.

Local defense attorney Elder Granger II of Granger & Donahue said cash bail has more to do with a person’s financial resources than his or her threat to society and its elimination is overdue.

Elder Granger II

"The people who are incarcerated the majority of the time and who cannot afford bail are the impoverished minority community," he said. "People who are able to post bail also are able to show the court system, whether it be prosecutors or judges, something that people who are in jail cannot, and that’s that they can remain free in the community without picking up charges." 

Granger added, "I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the bill is that it is automatically putting violent offenders back on the street, and that’s not the case. The bill still empowers the judge to keep violent offenders from being back in the community."

Maurice West Q&A

State Rep. Maurice West II, D-Rockford, is the secretary of the House Black Caucus and helped craft House Bill 3653. He said the governor is a proponent of the bill and anticipates he will sign it.

State Rep. Maurice West II speaks during a news conference with Gov. JB Pritzker, left, at Auburn High School on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Rockford, to showcase the COVID-19 vaccination site there and other vaccination efforts county and statewide.

West also addressed several concerns about the bill in the following Q and A. His responses were edited for length.

Q. With the elimination of cash bail for non-violent offenders, is it left up to judges to decide who is to be considered a non-violent offender?

M.W. That is correct. The truth is this bill enhances the court’s ability to hold violent offenders. We’ve seen how under the current system, accused murders like Kyle Rittenhouse are able to bond out, while indigent defendants are left in jail regardless of the seriousness of their offense. This bill creates a smarter approach by basing these decisions on a court’s risk assessment, rather than simply on a defendant’s ability to pay.

Q. The bill calls for expanding and standardizing use of force guidelines and training for police. What does that entail?

M.W. The legislation expands the training to include at least 12 hours of hands-on, scenario-based role playing; at least six hours of instruction on use of force techniques, including the use of de-escalation techniques to prevent or reduce the need for force whenever safe and feasible; specific training on officer safety techniques, including cover, concealment, and time; and at least six hours of training focused on high-risk traffic stops.

Q. Many describe the implementation of body cameras and more training as another  "unfunded state mandate coming out of Springfield." Will there be money allocated by the state to help municipalities with the purchase of body cameras and training?

M.W. Ensuring that there is funding allocated by the state for these measures is the priority of the General Assembly this current spring session. The earliest that any of the measures go into effect is July 2021. Thus, from today, we have over four months to work on funding allocations to local municipalities.

Q. Implementation of body cameras will be done based on the population of the community: Over 500,000: 1/1/2022, 100,000-500,000: 1/1/2023, 50,000-100,000: 1/1/2024, under 50,000: 1/1/2025. Will communities be penalized if they fail deploy body cameras by their designated time frame?

M.W. Municipalities and counties are rewarded for compliance with priority access to body camera grant funds. This is not a penalty. As I mentioned above, ensuring that there is funding allocated by the state for these measures is the priority of the General Assembly this current spring session. 

Q. Does this bill eliminate or alter collective bargaining rights of law enforcement?

M.W. There was an alter. The legislation deletes a provision of the Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act that currently allows collective bargaining agreements to override state law. The effect of this change would be to prevent collective bargaining agreements from being used to shield officers from discipline for misconduct and use-of-force violations.

Q. The bill calls for a task force being created to investigate qualified immunity. Do you know who will serve on the task force and what exactly is the task force being asked to do?

M.W. No, I do not know who is serving on the task force at this time. We are waiting for the governor to sign the bills so that we can move forward with the task force. The task force is being asked to develop and propose policies and procedures to review and reform qualified immunity as it applies to peace officers.

Q. How does this bill hold officers more accountable for their actions?

M.W. Increasing police accountability is not punishing our police officers. Accountability is needed to instill trust between law enforcement and all community members. This bill adds measures that hold officers accountable through duty to intervene language, the requirement of body cameras, whistleblower protections, and expansion of measures for licensing and certifications of law enforcement.

Q. How does this bill prevent an officer with questionable conduct from leaving a police department only to work for another department in a different part of the state?

M.W. Legislation that I filed in 2019 was in this legislation to address this issue. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, all public records and nonpublic records related to complaints, investigations, and adjudications of police misconduct shall be permanently retained and may not be destroyed. Before, misconduct records were destroyed after four years.

Q. What’s the status of the bill? Can the governor make or suggest changes before he decides to sign it or veto it?

M.W. I spoke with Governor Pritzker when he was in town last week. The governor plans to sign the bill.

Q. Are there any misconceptions about the bill that you would like to clarify?

M.W. One major misconception that I would like to clarify is that the legislation gets rid of felony murder charges. Not true. Let me provide a brief synopsis of an incident that happened recently in Rockford and Lake County. I will paraphrase and merge the stories for this example. Five teens performed an armed robbery and were unaware a legal firearm owner was on the scene. The firearm owner discharged and killed one of the teens. The other teens were then charged with murder even though they did not fire the gun. In this legislation, the surviving teens will still be charged with a felony at the highest extent of the law that commensurate with their actual conduct, but they won’t be charged with murder because they did not fire the weapon. Felony murder will remain in the books for those who commit murder.

Chris Green: cgreen@rrstar.com; @ChrisFGreen

via Rockford Register Star

February 16, 2021 at 06:38AM

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