Where rivals in 54th District stand on SAFE-T Act, crime, gun control

The two candidates for an Arlington Heights-centric state House district are split on Illinois' new criminal justice reform law and related issues of crime and gun control.

Knocking on doors through the newly redrawn 54th District - an area that encompasses the north side of Arlington Heights, plus portions of Palatine, Prospect Heights and Mount Prospect - Republican Michele Hunter said one of the top issues she hears from voters is crime. She supports a complete repeal of the SAFE-T Act, which includes the elimination of cash bail as of Jan. 1.

For Democrat Mary Beth Canty, residents tell her they want common-sense gun legislation. She says she supports stronger gun laws and taking a "smarter-on-crime" approach.

During a recent interview with a representative of the Daily Herald Editorial Board, much of the candidates' discussion about public safety centered on the state criminal justice reform law approved in February 2021.

Hunter, an attorney from Arlington Heights and one-time law clerk for a 2nd District Illinois Appellate Court judge, said people are concerned the legislation will "handcuff the police and embolden the criminals" at a time when crime already is on the rise. She opposes the provision that will abolish cash bail on Jan. 1, and how the bill was passed in the early morning hours of a lame-duck session with, she says, little input from law enforcement.

"Crime - for this beautiful community of Arlington Heights - is something now that people are not feeling safe on the streets," Hunter said. "They're not feeling safe and they don't feel like if they call the police that that will necessarily help them."

Canty, an attorney, Arlington Heights village trustee and Regional Transportation Authority board member, said there's a lot of misinformation circulating about the 764-page bill, with an overemphasis on the Pretrial Fairness Act.

"What I think we need to focus on is making sure that we are taking the focus of our pretrial system away from the riches of a defendant and putting it back on the actual risk of that defendant who is likely to be a danger to themselves, the community, to an individual person, and less on who has the ability to buy their way out of jail," Canty said. "Under our current system, domestic abusers and folks accused of all kinds of violent crimes can buy their way out of jail just by having access to money in whatever source, and I think that's a real problem."

Canty said she supports revisions to the bill and addressing concerns of law enforcement - like empowering police to make trespassing arrests - but cautioned not to "throw out the baby with the bathwater." One key provision of the bill is mandating police body cameras, which have already been implemented in towns like Arlington Heights. Canty says the cameras help keep officers safe and "gives us a full and complete picture."

On the gun control issue, Canty said limits should be enacted "so that we are not putting weapons of war on the streets of Illinois."

Hunter said anyone with a behavioral issue or criminal history shouldn't own a gun, and anyone who commits a gun offense should be punished severely. But she said there's already gun control laws in place.

"There was a law in Highland Park banning assault rifles. And the bottom line is that didn't change what happened," Hunter said of the July 4 parade shooting. "I don't think it's a matter of a feel good gun law that will actually affect violence. I think that anybody intent on destruction will find a way. And so it's not so much these gun laws that are at issue. It's more the behavioral issues."

"And I'll just say, as a single woman, for me, the Second Amendment is an equalizer," Hunter added. "It makes me feel safe to think that I'm able to protect myself if I would need to. And so that's an important right that I am not willing to give up."

Canty said AR-15 rifles don't have a place on the streets, but Hunter questioned how such a gun is defined.

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