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With Governor J. B. Pritzker signing the Criminal Justice Reform Bill recently, the restrictions within the bill that drastically alters the way law enforcement deals with offenders will have a way in which police officers perform their duty.
“For us, one of the bigger items in the law, is non-arrestable offenses,” said Vandalia Police Chief Jeff Ray. “For offenses which we could have taken offenders into custody, now we cannot.”
“The whole magnitude of consequences was not fully realized by the legislators and from the lack of outcry by citizens, they do realize the impact which the law will have on their lives,” Ray said. “For example, if someone is causing a disturbance in a business or even a private home, and the owner calls us wanting that person removed, now, with the new law, we can only write a citation. We cannot remove that person from the premises.”
Fayette County Sheriff Chris Smith agrees.
“The law hurts both law enforcement and the public. They rushed the 764-page law through in the final hours of the January session,” Smith said. “There was no regard for public safety.”
The bill also calls for no cash bails, especially for felony arrests, which will begin in 2023. Smith says that could insure and increase in criminal activity. He continued saying that officers and the public are not safe, and the public should be more concerned.
“Some of these things could be disastrous,” Ray said. “It’s really not looking good for police.”
Reviewal of body camera footage prior to writing an incident report is also prohibited under the new law.
“You are not going to remember every single detail which happened during an incident, and officers who take the stand in trials could be tricked up by defense lawyers in court,” Ray explained.
“It looks like they are trying to get a lot of cases thrown out,” Smith agreed.
However he still maintains that body cams remain one of the best investments his department has purchased. Ray also says that his department adopted the policy four to five years ago with a 90-day storage for footage, other than what is required for court cases. He says the department is now looking into cloud-based storage.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions with the law and we are getting into a whole new area of policing we have not seen before,” the chief said.
One thing that remains in doubt is the qualified immunity that officers enjoy in performance of their duty. This guarantees that if an officer did not break the law in performing his duty, he cannot be sued as a result. The new law, as written now, could remove that immunity from officers, and, if that happens according to Ray, “that takes it to a whole other level.”
As a result of the possible elimination of this immunity, Fayette County has seen two retirements, at least in part, due to experienced, tenured officers taking earlier retirements.
It could also discourage younger officers and young people looking to enter law enforcement to choose another career or move to another state according to Ray.
“Younger officers with under 10 years of experience are looking at other states, or even other vocations, to work in. Older officers are not wiling to risk their houses and everything they have worked for,” he said. “This is definitely a trying time, when it didn’t have to be. I know our guys felt attacked by the state legislature. That being said, I have to say we get nothing but support from our community.”
He says that hopefully trailer bills, or amendments tacked on to larger proposals, will be passed prior before some of the requirements of the Criminal Justice Reform law go into effect.