Sheriffs, do your duty and uphold the law on assault weapons

Assault-style rifles now banned for sale in the state are displayed in a sporting goods store on Jan. 11 in Tinley Park.

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Illinois recently passed new gun legislation that was signed into law almost immediately by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The main provision of the bill, an assault weapons ban, was a direct result of the mass shooting that took place in Highland Park on July 4, 2022.

Since then, press releases, news conferences and social media posts have shown a number of Illinois sheriffs and state’s attorneys stating that they will not enforce this new gun legislation. Not only is this a slippery slope — it is an avalanche. For sheriffs and state’s attorneys to publicly state that they will not enforce the law is not only a violation of their duty, but it also defies logic.

I do not support every single piece of legislation that comes out of Springfield, but I must comply with it or work to reverse or modify the legislation, which is exactly what is happening right now with other legislation that includes controversial provisions eliminating cash bail — the SAFE-T Act. 

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I do not understand how any official who has taken a sworn oath to enforce the law can make that kind of statement. Nearly every single survey, poll and national police organization have stated for the last two years that law enforcement in general is suffering from a lack of confidence and trust by the public, who feel there is politics and partisanship in our profession. So, how could you possibly take a chance on making matters worse?

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP), the National Sheriffs Association (NSA) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), to mention a few, have stated publicly that police agencies need to do a much better job of getting their message across to residents and delivering highly ethical law enforcement services to all citizens. And then sheriffs make this ridiculous statement against enforcing the law.

I am aware this new law may well be rule unconstitutional. That is still to be determined. Also, several lawsuits challenging the legislation are sure to be filed and in fact, have already commenced. That is the way the system works. If these sheriffs and state’s attorneys want to change the law, then they need to start work on doing just that. To just not enforce it puts the police profession in a downward spiral. 

When I was police chief in Riverside, we faced an issue involving a medical facility that was going to perform abortions. There were some officers who came to me and said they did not want to be assigned to special details where they might have to guard the facility. Simply and bluntly, I told them to do their job, or lose their job — period. They are sworn to uphold the law and if abortions were going to be legally administered at this facility, we had an obligation to protect the workers, not take political or religious stances on whether we would do our jobs. That would be disastrous, and there would be no way to draw the line in the future.

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This was not an issue of whether any of us believed in a woman’s right to an abortion. It was a matter of honoring our sworn oath to protect the citizens we served. Ultimately, the medical facility never did contact us for protection , but I certainly made my statement to my officers at every single roll call I attended.

Politics in our nation have become so enmeshed in partisanship that it is bleeding into and affecting law enforcement. If law enforcement leaders cannot stay out of the political fray and refrain from making purposefully inflammatory statements for their own personal gain, the profession is doomed.

I will continue to fight through all legal channels for issues I believe in. Police chiefs, sheriffs and state’s attorneys, just do your job.

Tom Weitzel retired from the Riverside Police Department in May 2021 after 37 years in law enforcement, including 13 years as Riverside Chief of Police. Follow him on Twitter @chiefweitzel.

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January 19, 2023 at 05:18PM

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