Pritzker Signs Massive Criminal Justice Bill, Law Enforcement Leaders Warn It Will Make Illinois Less Safe

police vest
A file photo of a police vest. On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law that mandates that all officers wear body cameras, among other changes. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
police vest
A file photo of a police vest. On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law that mandates that all officers wear body cameras, among other changes. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Pritzker Signs Massive Criminal Justice Bill, Law Enforcement Leaders Warn It Will Make Illinois Less Safe

The executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police warned that the state’s latest legislative criminal justice reform effort will be “devastating” for cops.

The former president of the state prosecutor’s association said the legislation will burden downstate communities and could put law-abiding citizens at risk.

And a law enforcement coalition claimed it is “a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens.”

Their concerns will be put to the test, after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the sweeping criminal justice bill into law Monday at Chicago State University on the city’s South Side.

The legislation eliminates the use of cash bail throughout Illinois, mandates body cameras for all officers statewide and allows for anonymous complaints against cops, among dozens of changes to every level of the criminal justice system in Illinois.

Proponents say the new law seeks to address systemic racism and create a system all of Illinois can be proud of.

Prtizker said the legislation was drafted in response to last summer’s protests against police brutality, and that lawmakers had “turned pain into progress, and … now into law.”

“All Illinoisans will live in a safer and more just state because of this law,” Pritzker said.

He also said opponents of the bill are people who do not want to see any change, and were using fear to defend the status quo.

“This is a great start in helping to address the negative effects of mass incarceration,” said state Rep. Sonya Harper. “This new law … protects our officers and survivors of crime, and makes sure we are being fair to all people.”

Law enforcement groups have been fighting the legislation for months. They claim the omnibus bill was put together hastily and unfairly targets police officers.

“The politicians are saying … that this is not an anti-police bill,” said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “Why would you listen to the politicians who say that? Listen to those who really know, and the law enforcement people are unanimous in saying this is an anti-police bill. “

Wojcicki said a rule banning officers from viewing their own body camera footage before filling out reports is an example of the way the bill “targets[s] police for no reason,” by unfairly setting up officers for claims that they lied about something caught on tape.

Wojcicki said the law enforcement leaders he works with are concerned with the way the legislation was drafted as well. The bill passed in the 11th hour of January’s lame-duck session, and changes were being made in the late night hours before the final vote.

“There are many concepts in the bill that we are OK with, but it is the way that they’re written that creates problems in implementation. … They were very sloppy,” Wojcicki said.

Hamilton County State’s Attorney Justin Hood was president of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association when the massive criminal justice bill passed last month.

He fought against the legislation, in particular the banning of cash bail throughout the state, warning that letting more people out while they await trial will “put the victims of crime and their families at great risk.”

“We just want to make sure the people that are productive members, taxpayers of society that don’t have criminal histories are also protected as well in this bill,” Hood said. “I’m going to take the wait-and-see approach to see if that happens.”

Opposition to the bill is not unanimous among Illinois police and prosecutors.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart both support the bill.

Foxx has long been a proponent of eliminating the use of monetary bail to determine whether a person should be kept in jail pretrial.

Foxx said she was “elated” when Pritzker signed the bill into law.

“It means that we will have a system that is about safety and not about money,” Foxx said. “And so it is my hope that this will be a new day in which money does not determine freedom. Your risk to public safety does.”

And Foxx said she believes some of her fellow Illinois prosecutors have been “wedded to a way of doing things for so long that the imagination of an alternative is lacking.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell Davis, the police chief in suburban Hazel Crest and a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the legislation could be the “foundation” for reform that will mean “change for the better.”

However he said there is concern within law enforcement over what they see as “unintended consequences” baked into the legislative language.

The legislation allows for time to tweak that language before implementation begins. For example, cash bail will not be outlawed until 2023. The body camera requirement will be phased in over the next four years.

“We believe that technical insight from law enforcement, combined with the vision of legislators will ultimately result in a product that will benefit everybody,” Davis said.

Wojcicki said police groups are already working with lawmakers on so-called “trailer bills” to clarify some of the legislative language and make implementation go smoothly.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, a sponsor of the legislation, said he was open to crafting legislation to clarify language, and said he looks forward to seeing proposals from law enforcement.

“I am open to having a conversation anywhere, any time, but what I’m not open to doing is gutting the substance of the bill,” Sims said. “If there are clarifications or there are technical corrections, certainly open to those. But I’m not going to renegotiate or relitigate the bill.”

And Sims waved away the claims from some that the bill would harm public safety, saying it’s a common “fear mongering tactic.”

“This law is about safety in our communities, it’s about accountability for law enforcement as well as fairness and equity across our criminal justice system. Don’t be dismayed or dissuaded by the misinformation or disinformation campaign,” Sims said.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.