What’s fiction, what’s fact about the SAFE-T Act and the elimination of cash bail – Daily Herald

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There’s not a hotter topic on the campaign trail in Illinois, or in law enforcement circles nationwide, than the SAFE-T Act, the sweeping criminal justice reform package that will eliminate cash bail starting Jan. 1.

And with all that heat has come plenty of confusion and misinformation about what’s really in the bill and what it means for you.

You may have heard that jails statewide will empty on New Year’s Day. And that killers, kidnappers and arsonists will go free after arrest. Or that someone could set up camp in your backyard and police won’t be able to do anything about it.

Even podcaster Joe Rogan got in on the act, telling his estimated 11 million listeners during a Sept. 21 episode that the law is “crazy.”

“They’re essentially almost eliminating cash bail for almost everything dangerous,” he said in remarks that have since been turned into a campaign ad by the conservative People Who Play By The Rules PAC.

So what’s real and what’s campaign season fearmongering? We’ve been covering the legislation since before it was approved last year. Here’s our best attempt at separating fact from fiction.

Claim: Violent felonies, including second-degree murder, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery and threatening a public official, will become “non-detainable” offenses, and those charged will be released after arrest.

Our verdict: False.

The SAFE-T Act sets out a list of “detainable” offenses for which a defendant can be kept in jail while the case is pending. These include charges in which a person, if convicted, would face a mandatory prison sentence — first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault, home invasion and residential burglary, among them.

Some critics have seized upon this to argue that other violent felonies will become “non-detainable” and those accused will roam free while awaiting trial.

In reality, a defendant in those cases still can be held in custody. Only now, prosecutors must convince a judge that the defendant either poses a “high risk of willful flight” or is a threat to a “specifically identifiable person or persons.”

It is without a doubt a much higher standard that has prosecutors concerned — and there may be momentum in Springfield to ease those requirements before Jan. 1 — but the law does not make these offenses non-detainable.

Claim: The SAFE-T Act is an unfunded mandate that will cost local governments and taxpayers millions.

Our verdict: True.

You don’t implement 764 pages of legislation without a hefty price tag, and the SAFE-T Act is no exception.

The law’s requirement that all police departments equip officers with body cameras by 2025 means most suburbs are investing well over six figures just for the hardware.

While some state funding is available to help defray those costs, police departments also are on the hook for the ongoing costs of storing and managing video, as well as processing public records requests for bodycam footage.

For counties, the elimination of cash bail means hiring additional attorneys and pretrial services personnel to manage an entirely new process for determining who is jailed and who goes free while awaiting trial. And keeping tabs on the latter.

All told, DuPage County estimates that implementing the requirements of the act will cost about $63 million over five years. Kane County officials say that $3 million of its $17 million budget deficit heading into 2023 is a result of SAFE-T Act mandates.

And as our Jake Griffin wrote in October, without cash bail, counties will lose out on millions of dollars in bail processing fees they’ve collected over the years.

Supporters of the bill note that there will be savings as well, not the least of which results from having fewer people locked up in the county jails.

Claim: Dangerous criminals currently incarcerated on cash bail will go free Jan. 1.

Verdict: Probably false.

While some Illinois prosecutors have warned of county jails clearing out on New Year’s Day, the text of the SAFE-T is unclear about exactly what happens Jan. 1 with people already locked up on cash bail.

However, there’s nothing stopping prosecutors from seeking court orders now that will keep the most dangerous inmates locked up once cash bail goes away. Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart told us last month that he already has a team of lawyers working on that.

It’s also an issue lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they hope to clarify when the General Assembly meets for its veto session later this month.

And, we should note, the law has no effect on those incarcerated after a conviction. Their sentences and living arrangements will remain unchanged.

Claim: If someone is trespassing at your home or business, police can only write a ticket, not force the person to leave.

Verdict: False.

This claim gained traction starting in September, when Orland Park Mayor (and Republican congressional candidate) Keith Pekau said at a village board meeting that someone could move into one of his resident’s sheds and the best police could do is give out a citation. He repeated similar claims while appearing on Fox News in October.

It’s true that under the law, police are directed to issue tickets in lieu of an arrest for Class B and C misdemeanors — of which trespassing is one.

But there are exceptions, according to recent guidance issued by the Illinois Supreme Court’s Pretrial Implementation Task Force. The panel said police “have discretion to remove the person from the location of the alleged criminal activity, and then cite and release the person from another location.”

The guidance also states that an arrest is appropriate if the trespasser is an obvious threat to any person or the community, or has an obvious medical or mental health issue that poses a risk to their own safety.

• Have a question, comment or story idea? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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November 4, 2022 at 06:59AM

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