Illinois Democrats' public safety approach centers on funding infusion
SPRINGFIELD -- In the run-up to the early morning April 9 adjournment of the spring legislative session, Illinois lawmakers passed a spate of public safety measures backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in the $46 billion fiscal year 2023 operating budget.
The package, pushed by Democrats in an election year in which rising crime has become a major campaign issue, ranged from minor statutory changes to a new legal definition of "organized retail crime," an expansion of a state roadway camera program and the regulation of "ghost guns."
The package was backed by a state budget that allocated new money for three Illinois State Police cadet classes, the purchase of body cameras and less lethal equipment, officer recruitment and retention grants, a carjacking response council, witness protection programs, investments in youth-based violence prevention programs, and an off-hours child care program.
While most of the bills were uncontroversial and broadly supported, the floor debate prior to the passage of several of them mirrored the rhetoric of an ongoing campaign season in which every constitutional office and seat in the General Assembly will be up for a vote in November.
Republicans accused Democrats of being soft on crime. Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat, accused Republicans of a "bad stench of racism" in their ongoing criticisms of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, a controversial criminal justice reform that passed the General Assembly in January 2021.
That measure, widely known as the SAFE-T Act, was an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that included police certification changes, body camera requirements, use-of-force reforms and other provisions including the elimination of cash bail in Illinois beginning in January 2023. It has been amended twice to address law enforcement concerns in several areas.
"The bottom line is that you don't deserve our respect," Slaughter, who sponsored the SAFE-T Act in the House, told the GOP on the House floor last month. "Your dog and pony show is over, and we're going to make you turn the page to a new chapter. A new and different era."
The "new era," Slaughter said, includes youth investments addressing the "root causes of violence," while Democrats have also touted increased investments in law enforcement investigative tools.
Sen. Robert Martwick, a Chicago Democrat, said the approach includes counteracting years of state police and youth program disinvestment that culminated in a two-year budget impasse between former Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the General Assembly.
"First and foremost, you have to give police officers the tools so that people feel safe, that we are addressing it and trying to reduce crime," Martwick said in a phone interview. "But then we have to have a long game, which means investing into people and into opportunities for people so that they have quality, healthy and safe alternatives to entering the life of crime."
Republicans took less of an issue with what was contained in the public safety package than what was excluded.
"If you're not going to put violent people behind bars and keep them there, you have accomplished nothing, no matter how much money you spend," Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, said in a phone interview.
Rose had for months been backing a crime response package full of sentence enhancements and mandatory minimums, such as a mandatory 10-year sentence for an offender's first conviction for crimes such as violent gun offenses and carjacking, and life sentences for a second offense.
The GOP-backed measures, including a $100 million "Fund the Police Act," failed to receive a committee vote in the Democrat-dominated legislature which has prioritized investment over incarceration.
Democratic action on the public safety package this year, Rose said, was spurred by polling numbers and a 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election that saw Republican Glenn Youngkin unseat Democratic incumbent Terry McAullife in a major swing to the right compared to the state's performance in the 2020 presidential election.
The Virginia election, Rose said, showed the public was pushing back against a "defund the police" mentality demonstrated by Democrats nationwide. In Illinois, he said, that's manifested in the SAFE-T Act, which he credited for creating unfunded training and equipment mandates, which in turn create financial pressures on departments, especially in smaller communities.
The impending end of cash bail could also make it harder for state's attorneys to hold accused dangerous criminals prior to trial, he said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has rejected the GOP rhetoric, pointing to prolonged disinvestment during the Rauner administration and touting spending increases in his administration.
"So there's an awful lot here that supports both the addition of public safety resources as well as making the system a safer one, a better one for anyone that ends up caught up in it," Pritzker said at a news conference last month. "A lot of progress has been made in that regard, even though I know that Republicans want to turn this into an election year issue. They're just wrong. The Democrats have been standing up for public safety all along."
No Republicans voted for the state operating budget, contained in House Bill 900, which passed 72-42 in the House and 34-19 in the Senate and included money for body camera grants and other law enforcement investments. That has led Democrats, including House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, to turn a frequent Republican argument on its head.
"What I like to point out is there's only one party in this state that's voting to defund the police," Welch said at an April 13 news conference celebrating the budget. "There's only one party that's voting to defund youth investment programs. And that's not the Democratic Party."
While Rose countered that he was skeptical the funds would be distributed equitably across the state and said spending won't make a difference without the accountability measures, Democrats say their investments speak for themselves.
"Illinois has never seen an effort this robust to fight and solve crime," Pritzker said the day the budget passed the General Assembly.
Below are summaries of the public safety-related measures and funding approved in the recently adjourned legislative session. The vote tallies apply to the individual measures, not the funding amounts, which were approved in the budget that has been signed into law.
Re-imagine Public Safety Act
Funding: $240 million
The Reimagine Public Safety Act became law last year, aiming to drive state resources to violence prevention programs in the state's most dangerous neighborhoods. The act created the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention to coordinate violence prevention efforts and give grants to community organizations that know where intervention is needed.
It's receiving $240 million this year, $235 million of which is from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, while $5 million will come from state general revenue funds.
"The Reimagine Public Safety Act signifies a different and new approach, one that is not necessarily soft or hard on crime, but rather smart on crime," Slaughter said in December 2021.
Including the Reimagine Public Safety Act funding and investments resulting from the state's legalization of adult-use marijuana in 2019, the budget included about $1 billion total in youth investment, adult redeploy and diversion, and other intervention programing, according to the governor's office.
State police funding
Funding: $36 million GRF increase
The budget included $18.6 million for three new classes of Illinois State Police cadets, $8 million for an equipment replacement program at ISP and $5.4 million for increased staffing and equipment at a new forensic lab in Decatur.
The $328 million general revenue spending for the state police marked a 12%, or $36 million, increase from the current year.
Chapin Rose, meanwhile, criticized the fact that downstate troopers are being reassigned to Chicago to monitor expressways and other high-crime areas.
Funding: $30 million
House Bill 4736 renames the Gang Crime Witness Protection Act as the Violent Crime Witness Protection Act, expanding it to fund emergency relocation expenses, lost wage assistance, security deposits for rent and utilities and more. The budget included $30 million to implement the program.
The plan also creates a crime reduction task force to study violence prevention measures and report back to the governor and General Assembly by March 1, 2023.
Co-responder pilot program
Funding: $10 million
The budget funds a co-responder pilot program at the police departments in East St. Louis, Peoria, Springfield and Waukegan, with an expiration set for January 2029.
The program would send social workers along with law enforcement on certain calls with a primary focus on victim assistance, including connecting victims with social services, providing guidance for receiving orders of protection and filing police reports, working with police investigators within confidentiality laws, and providing guidance to families of juveniles who have been arrested.
Tip hotline grants
Funding: $1 million
HB 4736 also creates a tip hotline grant program overseen by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority that would fund organizations or units of local government to establish anonymous tip hotlines that provide cash rewards for tips that lead to an arrest.
Senate vote: 40-17 partisan roll; House vote: 109-2. Pritzker signed the measure on May 10.
Funding: $30 million
House Bill 3699 adds vehicular hijacking as a focus of an existing state council to drive funding to intergovernmental task forces that work to solve carjacking crimes, according to Martwick, the bill's Senate sponsor.
The measure pertains to the existing Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention and Insurance Verification Trust Fund, and the budget allocates an extra $30 million to the fund on top of its $21 million balance.
Martwick said the goal is to drive that money to three task forces, one in the collar counties, one in the St. Louis Metro East area and one that has statewide jurisdiction but focuses on the Chicago area.
Martwick said carjackings generally fall into three categories, including stealing a vehicle to harvest and sell parts, using the vehicle in another crime, or joy riding. The first two can fall into a category of organized crime, he said. The tasks forces, made up of local law enforcement, state's attorneys, state agencies and other elements, would lead investigative efforts regarding the organized aspect of carjackings, he said.
"They're the investigative team that is pooling all of the resources in an attempt to try and identify the organized criminal elements behind this and then go after that and effectuate arrests," he said.
He cited a Civic Federation report which showed more than 95% of carjackings ended without an arrest in 2020 and 2021.
While that fund is also dedicated to implementing an electronic insurance policy verification program, Martwick's bill capped the amount of money in the fund that would go to that purpose to 10%, down from 50%.
Senate: 52-0; House: 113-0. Awaits Gov. JB Pritzker's signature.
Funding: $20 million
House Bill 4481 would expand a Cook County roadway camera pilot program to state highways and expressways in the counties of Boone, Bureau, Champaign, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Henry, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Macon, Madison, McHenry, Morgan, Peoria, Rock Island, Sangamon, St. Clair, Will and Winnebago. The budget contains $20 million from the Road Fund for the expansion.
House Bill 260 would allow police to use camera footage to also investigate hijacking and forcible felonies such as murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping and aggravated battery. Current law allows the footage to be used to investigate firearm offenses and to monitor roadway conditions.
It would also give the attorney general's office authority to prosecute forcible felony, gunrunning and firearms offenses on camera-monitored expressways.
HB 4481: Senate: 48-5; House: 95-10. Awaits signature.
HB 260: Senate: 44-12; House 97-10. Awaits signature.
Organized retail crime
Funding: $5 million
House Bill 1091 defines organized retail crime in state law with the intent of reducing offenders' ability to avoid prosecution.
The bill differentiates ringleaders from individuals stealing from retailers and mandates that online selling marketplaces must store information on high-volume sellers and ban them from the platform if they are suspected of selling stolen merchandise.
The measure would allow prosecutors to consolidate charges against an offender in one county even if a ring of smash-and-grab thefts happen across multiple counties. A statewide grand jury will have the power to investigate, indict and prosecute violations. The budget allocated $5 million to address organized retail crime.
Senate: 42-10 House: 96-5. Awaits signature.
Body cameras and less lethal equipment
Funding: $50 million total
The SAFE-T Act requires police departments to employ body cameras by 2025 on a staggered schedule based on department size. The budget allocates $30 million to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board for grants administered for camera adoption. It also includes $20 million for ICJIA to provide grants to fund less lethal devices and trainings on how to use them.
Law enforcement recruitment and retention
Funding: $10 million
Lawmakers dedicated $10 million to the training and standards board to focus on law enforcement recruitment and retention through House Bill 3863. The board would award grants to local governments, public higher education institutions and qualified nonprofits for the purpose of hiring and retaining officers. Grants would be prioritized to "underserved areas" and for efforts to achieve "demographic and geographic diversity" of law officers.
Senate: 55-0; House: 113-0. Signed on May 10.
First responder mental health
Funding: $17 million
House Bill 1321 creates a First Responder Behavioral Health Grant Fund that would provide grants to local governments, law enforcement agencies, fire districts, school districts, hospitals or ambulance services, for expenses related to behavioral health care for first responders.
The budget included $17 million for first responder mental health, including $10 million to the Department of Human Services for first responder wellness in Chicago and $2 million for grants for first responder mental health programs. Another $5 million was reallocated from federal COVID-19 funding from the previous fiscal year for administrative costs associated with first responder mental health.
Senate: 54-0; House: 113-0. Awaits signature.
Off-hours child care
Appropriation: $2 million
House Bill 1571 directs the Department of Human Services to create an off-hours child care program aimed at assisting first responders and other overnight shift workers. The department is to implement the program by July 1, 2023, and the budget included $2 million for the program.
Senate: 56-0; House: 113-0. Awaits signature.
Potential cost: $4 million annually
House Bill 1568 allows an officer who is retiring in good standing to purchase their department-issued badge and gun. It also lowered the retirement age to 55 from 60 for law enforcement officers employed by the state, provided they have served at least 20 years. The estimated cost for the State Employee Retirement System could be as much as $4 million annually, which could create a total increase in pension liabilities of about $230 million by 2045.
That measure also instructs the training and standards board to work with state higher education agencies to create credit transfer programs to public colleges for law enforcement and correctional intern courses.
Senate: 42-2; House: 99-7. Signed on May 6.
Ghost guns: House Bill 4383 gives owners of unserialized "ghost guns" 180 days to take them to a federal firearm dealer to be given a serial number. After that span, possession of an unserialized, unfinished firearm would become a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 3 felony for subsequent violations. The measure applies to 3D printed guns and unfinished frames, but it doesn't apply to antique, permanently inoperable guns or those manufactured before 1968. A person selling an unserialized firearm would be guilty of a Class 4 felony for a first violation and Class 2 felony for subsequent violations. Senate: 31-19; House: 66-36. Awaits signature.
Carjacking fees: House Bill 3772 states that a person who has had their car stolen is not liable for traffic fees, fines or impound costs on the stolen vehicle. It also provides that a carjacking victim could be reimbursed up to $1,000 from the Court of Claims for towing costs. Senate: 55-0; House: 115-0. Awaits signature.
Eavesdropping extensions: House Bill 3893 makes no changes to existing law other than extending the expiration dates of two laws that are already on the books. One law allowing law enforcement to eavesdrop on conversations during an investigation of murder, drug and sex offenses, will be extended until Jan. 1, 2027. The Illinois Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law is extended by one year to June 11, 2023. Senate: 53-0; House: 109-2. Awaits signature.
Burglary tools: House Bill 601 allows police to charge someone with possession of burglary tools if they possess, with the intent to steal a vehicle, a key fob duplication device. That offense is punishable by a Class 4 felony. Senate: 45-9; House: 103-5. Awaits signature.
Catalytic converters: House Bill 107 adds catalytic converters to the definition of "recyclable metals" under Illinois law and prohibits recyclable metal dealers from purchasing a converter valued at more than $100. It also requires metal dealers to keep more stringent records on people selling catalytic converters. Senate: 56-0; House: 104-0. Awaits signature.
Law enforcement officers: House Bill 4667 adds Department of Corrections officers and deputies and county correctional officers to those covered under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, which allows them to carry a weapon while off-duty. Senate: 58-0; House 103-6. Awaits signature.