'A step in the right direction': Cops back changes in justice reform bill

  • Suburban police are breathing a small sigh of relief after state lawmakers this week approved changes to a massive criminal justice reform bill passed earlier this year. Some of the key changes as far as police are concerned deal with the use of body-worn cameras.

    Suburban police are breathing a small sigh of relief after state lawmakers this week approved changes to a massive criminal justice reform bill passed earlier this year. Some of the key changes as far as police are concerned deal with the use of body-worn cameras. Courtesy of Mundelein Police

  • Lake Zurich Police Chief Steve Husak

    Lake Zurich Police Chief Steve Husak

  • Adjunct Horticulture Instructor Connie Kollmeyer, in green shirt, speaks with students who are taking a for-credit horticulture class while they are detained at the DuPage County jail. The garden is on the jail grounds.

    Adjunct Horticulture Instructor Connie Kollmeyer, in green shirt, speaks with students who are taking a for-credit horticulture class while they are detained at the DuPage County jail. The garden is on the jail grounds. Courtesy of DuPage County Sheriff's Office

  • DuPage County jail inmates work with College of DuPage instructor Connie Kollmeyer during a new hands-on horticulture course. Some of the plants will be grown in aboveground pods.

    DuPage County jail inmates work with College of DuPage instructor Connie Kollmeyer during a new hands-on horticulture course. Some of the plants will be grown in aboveground pods. Courtesy of DuPage County Sheriff's Office

 
Posted6/4/2021 5:30 AM

Suburban police leaders still aren't thrilled with the sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February, but they're feeling better about it after amendments were tacked on this week in the final moments of the spring legislative session.

The changes, part of what's known as a trailer bill passed by lawmakers late Monday night, are the result of months of negotiations between sponsors of the reform bill -- now known as the SAFE-T Act -- and law enforcement organizations.

 

"The trailer bill is a step in the right direction," Lake Zurich Police Chief Steve Husak said.

Vernon Hills police officer Ryan Yaeger is seen with the department's body cameras. A trailer bill passed by the state legislature Monday would eliminate an earlier provision barring officers from reviewing video while preparing written incident reports.
Vernon Hills police officer Ryan Yaeger is seen with the department's body cameras. A trailer bill passed by the state legislature Monday would eliminate an earlier provision barring officers from reviewing video while preparing written incident reports. - Courtesy of Vernon Hills police

The changes, which still need Pritzker's approval, address some of law enforcement's biggest complaints about the reform package, perhaps none bigger than how police can use video from mandatory body-worn cameras. A provision that would have banned officers from reviewing footage while preparing a report -- or creating a supplemental report based on a later viewing of the video -- has been removed.

So has a section that would have made it a felony for an officer to violate department policy on the use of body cameras.

It also gives officers more discretion when deciding whether to use potentially deadly force to apprehend a suspect or allowing that suspect to flee in hopes of later capture.

The initial legislation said officers could use deadly force only in two situations: to prevent death or harm to themselves or another person, or when someone who has just committed a violent felony is likely to cause great harm to another person and cannot be captured later.

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The trailer bill removes the word "just," requiring only that a violent felony was committed. It also removes the requirement that the suspect can't be captured later.

In addition, the bill clarifies the definition of a chokehold, so that officers may still place suspects in a headlock when necessary, as long as no pressure is applied to the throat or airway.

While it vehemently opposed the reform bill passed earlier this year, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police offered its support to the trailer bill.

"It is clear from reading the trailer bill that the sponsors listened to our concerns and negotiated in good faith to clarify language in the law that would (have) been difficult to operationalize and implement," a letter signed by group President and Hazel Crest Chief Mitchell R. Davis III reads. "The language in the trailer bill has put law enforcement in a much better place than the original language contained in the law."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That said, the chiefs say there's still work to be done. Among the issues left unresolved, they say, are funding for mandatory bodycams, how anonymous complaints against officers should be handled, whether arrestees should get three phone calls instead of one, and how an officer could be decertified for misconduct.

Many of those provisions don't go into effect for a year or two, and police hope to sway legislators to make more changes in that time.

"Overall, the trailer bill did address some of the glaring issues, and many that were pressing -- timewise," Husak said. "We have some time to continue to work on other portions, especially some of the training and reporting requirements."

More from Springfield

Back in April, we told you about a proposal in the state legislature that would ban police from lying to juvenile suspects during an interrogation.

That measure passed through both chambers of the General Assembly over the weekend. If it is signed into law by Pritzker, as expected, Illinois would become the first state in the U.S. to prohibit those tactics.

As we wrote back in the spring, advocates for the bill say juveniles are especially prone to making false confessions, and the likelihood only increases when police feed them false or misleading information. The bill also would ban police from making false promises of leniency in exchange for an admission.

"This historic legislation -- the first of its kind to pass a state legislature -- is a breakthrough in safeguarding against the wrongful convictions of young people," said Rebecca Brown, director of policy at the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongly convicted. "It is far more likely than one might think for someone, particularly a child, to confess out of fear, coercion or desperation when deceptive tactics are used during an interrogation."

DuPage County jail inmates are taking part in a new hands-on horticulture course offered in partnership with the College of DuPage.
DuPage County jail inmates are taking part in a new hands-on horticulture course offered in partnership with the College of DuPage. - Courtesy of the DuPage County Sheriff's Office
Growing skills

Another educational opportunity has sprouted for detainees at the DuPage County jail.

Eight of them are enrolled in a horticulture class, offered by the College of DuPage. It takes place in Hope's Garden, on the grounds of the jail.

The student gardeners can earn three credit hours for passing the eight-week Sustainable Urban Vegetable and Herb Production course.

All produce will be donated to charity food pantries.

"Not only are we extending our continuum of care with modern collaborations such as this one with College of DuPage, but we are teaching these individuals a life skill," Sheriff James Mendrick said in a news release.

On Monday mornings, the students attend lessons, via Zoom. On Wednesdays, students and instructors are in the garden for in-person labs and cultivation.

Hope's Garden is named after Baby Hope, an infant who was found deceased in August 2016 in a backpack along a remote, wooded road near Wheaton.

The first version of the garden was at the Winfield Township Highway Department garage. It was moved to a former dog run at the jail in 2020.

Whee!

Workers at the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles are so excited about Thursday's announcement that those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop wearing masks in the building, they've planned an informal ceremony.

You will see them throwing their masks in the air, kind of like graduation caps, at noon today on the lawn out front.

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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