Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is throwing her weight behind a controversial plan to make cops be licensed by the state, while Gov. JB Pritzker says he’s “looking hard” at the proposal as calls for police reform in Illinois mount.
Last week, Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul told WBEZ he was angry with himself for not personally getting the policy passed when he was a state lawmaker in 2015 after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
He said he couldn’t get enough support to get the state House and Senate to pass a police reform measure if it included licensing cops because law enforcement didn’t fully support it.
But in light of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Raoul is now calling on the legislature once again to debate the idea.
And his plan is gaining traction.
“I would support it,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told WBEZ’s Reset on Monday. “If you have to be licensed as a manicurist and a hairdresser, certainly you should be licensed as a police officer.”
Lightfoot said a licensing process could also help prevent local governments from hiring police officers who have a number of misconduct complaints against them but were never disciplined for their actions.
“I think we need to go further and make sure that there is an opportunity for municipalities to understand if somebody moves from Chicago to a suburb or vice versa, that we understand that officer’s history so you don’t get to just move from one municipality to another when there’s a problem,” she said. “There’s got to be a lot more transparency around that.”
The state currently certifies police officers. Illinois law does establish a process for the de-certification of officers but only if they are convicted of certain crimes, such as sexual abuse.
By contrast, revoking an officer’s license could come as a result of disciplinary action taken against them for misconduct, not only convictions.
Speaking at a Monday news conference, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said he is “looking hard” at the policy idea, but stopped short of saying he fully supports it. Still, Pritzker acknowledged the benefits of such a policy, saying a state licensing board could discipline an officer accused of misconduct when the local department won’t take action against “the kind of behavior I think we would all find reprehensible.
“It’s a way to take it into an independent realm and away from a specific local police department and have perhaps a more independent body look at the problems that a police officer has brought to their job,” Pritzker said.
While Lightfoot and Pritzker praised the policy, Raoul said last week that part of the reason it failed to pass in 2015 was that it lacked support from law enforcement officials.
But he has hope it could get enough votes to pass the state legislature this time around.
“I think, yes, we need to use this opportunity, this energy to push through reform that has been resisted historically,” Raoul told WBEZ.
The executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Ed Wojcicki, did not take a clear stance on whether his organization supports or opposes having the state license cops.
Wojcicki said his association is open to discussing the topic with Raoul, but he also questioned whether the current certification process for officers could just be amended, rather than establishing an entirely new licensure process.
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold. WBEZ city politics reporter Becky Vevea contributed.