Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week signed into law a sweeping overhaul of policing and criminal justice that eliminates the cash bail system, requires police agencies to equip officers with body cameras and strictly defines use-of-force rules for law enforcement.
“In this terrible year and in the middle of a brutal viral pandemic that hurt Black people and brown people disproportionately, these lawmakers fought to address the pandemic of systemic racism,” Pritzker said during a ceremony Monday.
Pritzker was joined by supporters of the new law, which lawmakers introduced and passed with just hours left in the January lame-duck legislative session. It received fierce opposition from some law enforcement groups.
“We are going from protest to progress,” said state Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who guided the legislation through the House.
One of the key parts of the bill ends cash bail by 2023, setting up Illinois to become the first U.S. state to do so. Other states, including New Jersey and New York, have limited the use of cash bail but not eliminated it entirely.
Pritzker previously said cash bail “disproportionately forces low-income people of color into a destructive cycle of unearned detention and instability.”
Instead of requiring suspects to post a monetary fee to be released from jail, judges will use a risk assessment system to determine a subject’s fitness for release.
On the law enforcement front, all Illinois police officers will be required to be equipped with body cameras by 2025. Departments do not risk losing funding if they fail to meet the deadline, but many smaller departments have raised concerns about being able to afford the unfunded mandate.
Suspects in police custody also have new rights, including being allowed to make three phone calls prior to questioning.
The law also issues new guidelines on training for police and how they use force, ends suspending a driver’s license if a person cannot pay a penalty, creates a process for decertifying police officers and addresses prison reform.
“What is now in state law will enhance what I began in the city of Springfield,” said new state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, who worked with Springfield police while on the city council on use-of-force and training issues.
Turner said the law makes Illinois a leader in police reform.
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Despite opposition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois argued most people in Illinois actually support the legislation. Polling by the ACLU last year found 91% of Illinois voters support police accountability legislation.
“It is not accurate to suggest this is anything other than a much-needed package of policy solutions that have been called for by advocates and community members, legislation filed by many members of the General Assembly, including members of the Black Caucus over the years,” said Khadine Bennett, director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs for the ACLU of Illinois.
“When you demand change, sometimes it’s not the most popular, but it’s the most right,” said state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.
“It’s time to look at criminal justice policy through an equity lens,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.
Sheriffs and police organizations around the state have voiced opposition to the law and have said it will make it harder for police to keep communities safe.
“It’s clear the sponsors of the bill and the governor have never worked in law enforcement,” said Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell. “It appears in some of the wording in the bill the sponsors had no idea what they were doing. We will all pay for that inexperience.”
James Black, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said the organization has never been opposed to positive police reform measures or police modernization.
Republicans had asked Pritzker to veto the bill. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Pritzker’s decision to sign the bill “is an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois” and that Pritzker “does not understand” the bill.
“It is especially troubling that the governor signed the bill in Chicago, because it is the poster child for what can go wrong with poorly designed criminal justice reforms,” said state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, a former prosecutor who cited increasing crime rates in Chicago and Illinois last year.
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The governor said he was confident in the new law.
“This is going to make police safer and going to make the public safer,” Pritzker said.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; The Associated Press