New Law Means More Oversight For Suburban Police Shootings

Taking Cover
Leigh Cox / WBEZ
Taking Cover
Leigh Cox / WBEZ

New Law Means More Oversight For Suburban Police Shootings

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Police departments across the state of Illinois will soon have to review incidents in which their officers shoot people, a seemingly obvious step that wasn’t required until Sunday when Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner addressed the gap in oversight by signing a law that requires departments do a “thorough review” after shootings.

The legislation was a response to an investigation by WBEZ and the Better Government Association into police departments in the Cook County suburbs.

That investigation, Taking Cover, found that between 2005 and 2018 there were at least 113 shootings by suburban police. Those shootings included more than two dozen cases where the person shot was unarmed. There were also shootings when police shot innocent bystanders or even wounded fellow officers. Not a single officer involved in those shootings was disciplined, fired, charged criminally, or even sent for retraining. What’s more, almost none of those shootings were even reviewed for misconduct.

That lack of internal review shocked former police officer and frequent expert witness in police shooting lawsuits Frank Murphy.

“Any time there’s a shooting involving a police officer…an independent investigation must be undertaken. And it’s not just for criminal investigations, it’s for administrative purposes,” Murphy said. “What agency in law enforcement would not do that?”

Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, those administrative reviews will now be required throughout Illinois. The legislation passed both chambers of the Illinois state legislature unanimously.

That’s possibly because the legislation took a minimal approach to fixing the problem.

State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) sponsored the bill.

Raoul called the legislation “a no-brainer.”

“The police chiefs that I had an opportunity to talk to just presumed that everybody was doing it. They believed that it was the common sense protocol for one to have within the department. So I think the vast majority of departments were already doing it,” Raoul said after Rauner signed the bill into law. “This is not some outrageous mandate coming from Springfield or anything, this is common-sense policy.”

Raoul said the new law will create a minimum standard, and bring the departments that are lagging behind up to the level of most departments in the state.

Raoul is running for Illinois Attorney General.

His Republican opponent is Erika Harold. Harold has also pledged to address suburban police oversight if elected.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.

Jared Rutecki and Casey Toner of the BGA contributed reporting for this story.

Editor’s note: After the Taking Cover series was completed, the advocacy arm of the Better Government Association began lobbying in support of this legislative change, which requires every police department in the state do a quote “thorough review of the circumstances” after an officer-involved shooting.