Richard Irvin first praised, now slams, criminal justice bill

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As a Republican candidate for governor, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin has repeatedly attacked Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a criminal justice package Irvin says he will seek to repeal because it encourages violent crime and played a role in the deaths of law enforcement officers.

“They’re not crime bills. What they are is ‘I hate the police bills.’ They are ‘defund the police bills,” Irvin said Thursday on the conservative Newsmax network. “These bills that give more credibility to criminals than they do to the victims that these criminals victimize. They give more credibility to criminals than the police that do their job arresting them every single day. And the first thing that I do as governor is work hard to repeal these.”

But on the day Pritzker signed the package’s initial and overarching piece into law on Feb. 22 of last year, Irvin sent one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors a letter commending state Sen. Elgie Sims Jr. of Chicago on his leadership in its passage, lauding the measure’s goals and saying he thought his police department had already met or exceeded the new law’s requirements.

He also suggested to Sims some minor changes to make the new law better.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin delivers the State of the City address at Paramount Theater in Aurora, Ill. on March 15, 2022.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin delivers the State of the City address at Paramount Theater in Aurora, Ill. on March 15, 2022. (Mike Mantucca / The Beacon-News)

“It has been my experience that having well-trained officers working hand in hand with community members is the only way to create a safe community and I strongly support the bill’s goal to help move other departments in that direction as well,” Irvin wrote to Sims.

Irvin’s letter threatens to undermine the key positioning he has taken in his bid for the GOP nomination in June and the right to take on Pritzker in the Nov. 8 general election. It also represents the latest dichotomy in positions taken by Irvin as Aurora mayor versus Irvin the Republican candidate for governor.

As mayor, Irvin hailed Pritzker’s leadership on COVID-19 mitigation efforts and pushed for uniform endorsement of them across municipal lines while he also backed masking requirements for local businesses. But as a candidate for governor, Irvin said he opposes coronavirus mandates and supports more local control of pandemic restrictions.

Since he announced his campaign earlier this year, Irvin has pushed a tough-on-crime posture that promotes his five years as an assistant prosecutor in Cook and Kane counties while ignoring his 15 years as a criminal defense attorney. It is a position pushed by his biggest financial benefactor, Ken Griffin. Griffin, Illinois’ wealthiest resident and the founder and CEO of Citadel investments, has pumped $20 million into Irvin’s campaign.

The anti-crime messaging is also part of a GOP playbook, used both locally and nationally, to attempt to portray Democrats as soft on crime amid violent outbreaks of gun violence, smash-and-grab retail thefts and carjackings.

In Illinois, the sweeping criminal justice bill has become a focal point. Hailed by criminal justice reformers but criticized by many in law enforcement, last year’s bill called for abolishing cash bail in 2023, requires police officers statewide to wear body cameras by 2025, eliminates requirements for signing sworn affidavits when filing complaints against officers and creates a new process to decertify abusive police.

Irvin’s campaign dismissed the candidate’s praise for the measure as “word parsing.”

“Being polite to a state senator when asking for revisions to a law that affects police in one’s city is far from being laudatory or indicating overall support for this piece of legislation, which Mayor Irvin does not support,” said Irvin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.

She said the letter does not “change the fact that J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law that ties the hands of police and let’s violent criminals back into our communities.”

In a brief interview with the Tribune in February, more than two weeks after announcing his candidacy for governor, Irvin lashed out at the reforms even though most parts of the package, such as the cashless bail provision for nonviolent offenders, have yet to take effect.

“It’s not even about (the law) going into effect. It’s about the fact that the criminals know what’s coming. They know that when they get arrested, they’re not going to have to post bond. That empowers criminals to want to commit more crime,” Irvin said in the Feb. 3 interview.

He went even further, saying “eight police officers have been killed in the line of duty since that bill has been signed,” adding, “of course signing that bill affects crime in this state.”

In seeking reelection last year as Aurora’s first Black mayor, Irvin said in a candidate questionnaire that he supported “Black Lives Matter strongly and passionately.” But in his campaign announcement, on TV commercials and in the Newsmax interview, Irvin has repeatedly said, “all lives matter” — a phrase associated with conservatives supporting police and attacking the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of incidents of police violence.

In the Newsmax interview, Irvin said it was important to be “backing your men and women in blue, showing that you got the backs of those men and women that wear the badge and come out of their home every single day and put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Irvin’s campaign comments about the criminal justice package are in sharp contrast to those in his letter to Sims where he stated, “I commend you for your leadership in connection with the passage” of the measure.

Sims could not be reached for comment.

Despite his opposition as a candidate for governor, Irvin made no mention in his letter to Sims of the cashless bail provision that has become one of his major campaign taking points.

Instead, Irvin said after reviewing the measure, “I am proud to note that our police department already meets, and I believe exceeds, a number of the new requirements” dealing with law enforcement.

He specifically cited “our overall training program (including new recruits), our policies regarding use of force and equipping our officers with body cameras, which we committed to doing back in June as a compliment to our dashcam program.”

Irvin’s campaign said his letter did not address the candidate’s concerns about such provisions as cashless bail because he wanted to deal with sections of the new law that would go into effect sooner and needed to be addressed more quickly. The campaign said suggesting changes to the law was not an indication of support.

Irvin proposed four amendments to the bill, even though at the time the measure already had been approved by the General Assembly and was only awaiting Pritzker’s signature to become law. The campaign said the changes were suggested after the bill passed because lawmakers were already talking about a follow-up cleanup bill.

Among the changes proposed in Irvin’s letter was a technical one in how anonymous complaints against police could be made. That’s a provision opposed by police unions but one Irvin in his letter said he supported “because it will encourage individuals to come forward who may not otherwise do so.”

Other provisions Irvin sought dealt with allowing police officers to review their body camera footage to prepare a police report, clarifying standards for police use of force and wearing body cameras and retooling language involving resisting or obstructing a police officer. A subsequent bill signed into law clarified the obstruction issue.

Irvin concluded his letter to Sims by writing, “thank you for your leadership and work that went into this bill” and “appreciation” for considering his proposed changes.

“Please do not hesitate to reach out if we can be of assistance,” Irvin wrote.


Rick Pearson has been the Tribune’s chief political reporter since 1998, after joining the paper a decade earlier as a state legislative correspondent. He’s covered Illinois and national politics for more than 30 years, including four presidential races. He also hosts a Sunday show on politics on WGN AM-720 and is frequently on WGN-TV.

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March 22, 2022 at 04:29PM

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