PEORIA, Ill. — After House Bill 3653, the Criminal Justice and Police Reforms Bill, passed through the Illinois General Assembly, Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell said he’d lost 10 employees over worry about the bill by the Feb. 22 date Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law.
The number of PCSO employees as of April 1 who had either left or notified Asbell of their upcoming resignation had increased to 22.
“And, I know we’re not as bad as some of the other counties,” he said.
“I’ll use Rock Island County for an example. The border state counties are having a lot more problems than we are, because other states are using this to their advantage for recruitment on their side.
“I think Scott County, IA, right now, which is in the Quad Cities, said almost 50% of their sworn officers right now come from Illinois.”
Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower expressed similar travails.
“Law enforcement tries to keep up on what’s going on around them. I had two senior deputies retire before [it became a law on Feb. 22],” he said.
“Shortly after the bill passed, I’ve had three other senior deputies who have retired. One’s gone, two leave at the end of May, and I’ve had one correctional officer retire.
“It was an accumulation of several reasons, but that [bill], obviously, played into that.”
Asbell said it’s been a matter of damage mitigation since the bill passed.
“I’m strictly focused on retention. I hate to use the term ‘stop the bleed,’ but I have to stop losing people, and then we’ll focus on recruitment,” he said.
“And I wouldn’t be scared if this was four or five years ago, because we had, at any given time, 100 applications on file. That’s not the case now.”
Lower said at his office, those who haven’t already left or submitted their resignations are “just kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
Yet, 46th District Senator Dave Koehler said it didn’t have to come to this.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what the bill does and what it doesn’t do. I think we need to not just go by what we see on Facebook or on the internet as to what this is and what this isn’t,” he said.
“The intent was very simple, and this was a part of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Four Pillars proposal on racial justice. What it tries to do is protect those departments and those officers who are doing a good job, but it also means better training and trying to correct some of the practices of the past.”
Koehler, who went on to call it a “pretty good, comprehensive package,” said the mandated use of body cameras is an example of how the bill protects officers.
“The qualified immunity question is still one that’s going to be out there. I worked very hard to make sure the elimination of qualified immunity was not part of the bill, because I heard loud and clear from local police officers and departments they felt that was a critical issue, so we did not eliminate qualified immunity.
“So, there’s a lot of things we need to continue to discuss, and really become more educated on what the bill is and what it isn’t.”
SHERIFFS SAY PARTS OF BILL ARE WORKABLE
Despite the ramifications of the bill, both Lower and Asbell admitted there are things about the bill they support.
“I do like the fact we’re trying to get a uniformed use of force policy. I think we have a pretty good one in our department, but it needs to be uniformed through the state,” said Lower, who also concurred with Koehler on a point.
“Nobody has a complaint about body cameras, because in my view, it’s protecting the officers and deputies just as much as protecting the public.”
Asbell has been vocal about supporting the complete ban on chokeholds the bill mandates.
FUTURE OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY HANGS IN BALANCE
Still, the possibility exists qualified immunity could be eliminated because of another house bill.
HB 1727, the “Bad Apples in Law Enforcement Act,” would end qualified immunity as a defense for police.
“Half the people in the profession don’t understand what qualified immunity is, nor do I think the community understands what qualified immunity is,” said Asbell.
“It’s basically just a legal principle that grants law enforcement protecions when performing discretionary functions. [If it went away] I could potentially be sued if I think under the circumstances I was doing the right thing, but then once all the facts of the case come out, things you might not know at the time prove otherwise, you could be civilly responsible for that.
“There’s such a theme there if you lose this, [officers] believe ‘I’m leaving. I’m over.’ That’s going to significantly increase the amount of people we lose.”
The bill appeared this week to be losing immediate support among Illinois House Democrats, though its revival could be possible, pending a task force review.
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April 23, 2021 at 07:29PM