Crime, SAFE-T Act loom large in attorney general race

Crime and the attorney general's role in combating it dominated last week's virtual debate between incumbent Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, and Republican challenger Thomas Devore of downstate Greenville.

Also running in the Nov. 8 election is Libertarian Daniel K. Robin, a retired attorney.

During the hourlong debate organized by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Capitol News Illinois, DeVore stated his opposition to the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today Act - better known as the SAFE-T Act - saying he believes it is unconstitutional.

The criminal justice reform package includes changes in police certification, mandates the use of body cameras, strengthens the requirements for the use of deadly force, and the eliminates cash bail as of Jan. 1. Critics say the latter provision will make it harder for prosecutors to have dangerous criminal defendants held in custody while awaiting trial.

DeVore said that if the SAFE-T Act withstands legal challenges it's now facing, the attorney general's office will have an obligation to uphold it. But, he added, he has an "equal obligation" to Illinois residents to raise the issue of whether the law was passed constitutionally.

"The attorney general has a duty to the people of this state to defend them against unconstitutional conduct from the governor's office, from the legislature, and that's what we're dealing with here," he said.

Raoul acknowledged that components of the law need clarification. Legislators are in touch with state's attorneys, chiefs of police and others, he said, and "there could be some language changes to people who may be a threat to the public at large or to an individual."

He says legislators have "already revisited other components of the SAFE-T Act" and believes that the issues surrounding bail will be resolved during the "ordinary legislative process."

"My obligation as a lawyer in general is toward justice. If the evidence is such or the law is such that I would have to concede unconstitutionality, I ... would have to do so," Raoul said. "I don't think that's the case here, so we're going to vigorously defend the lawsuits."

The candidates disagreed on the attorney general's role in prosecuting local crime, which is typically the responsibility of a county's state's attorney. DeVore said the attorney general "can choose to into any county he wants and pursue criminal cases if he deems it necessary."

He went on to criticize Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx for her decision not to prosecute certain crimes, including low-level drug charges and some theft offenses. During a speech at the Illinois State Fair, DeVore said of Foxx, "She better get to prosecuting or we'll figure out a way to prosecute her."

"Prosecutorial discretion is one thing," DeVore said in the debate. "When you take prosecutorial discretion to the point that you may be engaging in official misconduct yourself by failing to perform a duty that the law requires you to perform, that's at least a conversation that has to be had" not just with regard to Foxx but with other public officials as well.

DeVore said he would "investigate any public official in this state regardless of political party if they alleged to do wrongdoing, including the governor."

Raoul characterized DeVore's remarks about Foxx as dangerous in today's environment, adding they are a "signal of somebody who will abuse the authority given to the attorney general."

"There have been prosecutors who've been prosecuted for abusing their authority in political ways," Raoul said. "Somebody who overtly makes these statements as a candidate for attorney general should not be let anywhere near the door of the attorney general's office."

"You don't just say you're going to investigate somebody or you're going to prosecute somebody unless you have facts or evidence to lead you in that direction," he added. "You don't use the power of this office as a tool to go after people you just don't like."

Raoul cited as his accomplishments during his first term, including the creation of a crime gun tracing platform; his office's lawsuit against a "rogue gun dealer" who manufactured illegal guns; the prosecution of gun runners; obtaining from the General Assembly the authority to prosecute gun crimes committed on state roads; and his office's partnership with the National Threat Assessment Center, an arm of the Secret Service, on avoiding targeted violence like the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park.

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