SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) — With the general election two months away, both Democrats and Republicans are in attack mode. Republicans in particular are using certain legislation–House BIll 3653, or the SAFE-T Act–to motivate voters. But there are many claims floating around about what the bill actually does or does not do.
WMBD’s digital producer Maggie Strahan has a Masters degree in Public Affairs Reporting and has covered the work of the Illinois General Assembly closely in the past. She is here to break down the 764-page bill for concerned citizens.
The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, or the SAFE-T Act, was passed by the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives on Jan. 13, 2021. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law on Feb. 22 of that year, whereupon it became known as Public 101-0652.
Let’s examine some of the misinformed claims being made about the SAFE-T Act, and what the bill actually says.
CLAIM: The SAFE-T Act ends cash bail.
FACT: Yes, the act does abolish the money bail system beginning Jan. 1, 2023. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the cash bail system disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities and other underrepresented or impoverished groups.
CLAIM: Ending cash bail will release dangerous criminals into the community.
FACT: Convicted criminals currently in jail will not be released. Someone who is arrested after Jan. 1 may be released prior to their trial, based on the assumption of innocence guaranteed in the United States Constitution. However, a judge will have the power to determine whether a person should be released based on a public safety evaluation rather than the size of the defendant’s wallet.
CLAIM: Eliminating cash bail will allow criminals to run amok forever.
FACT: If the elimination of cash bail does not prove to benefit the state, Illinois may in the future create legislation to amend the pretrial release system. Loyola University, with help from the National Institute of Justice, is studying the SAFE-T Act’s implementation and will analyze the effectiveness of the new pretrial release system over the first year.
CLAIM: Anyone charged with a “non-detainable offense” will be released immediately after arrest. See graphic below, which is making the rounds on social media.
FACT: The SAFE-T Act does not create any “non-detainable offenses.” Illinois law has no such thing.
Certain crimes, including forcible felonies, stalking, and domestic abuse, will lead a judge to revoke pretrial release; meaning, they will not be released after arrest. This is outlined in the act’s section 110-6.1.a.
Some of the crimes listed in the graphic will lead to revocation of pretrial release, such as arson and kidnapping. These are defined as forcible felonies by Illinois law.
However, that does not mean perpetrators of other crimes are guaranteed to be let out of jail free. A judge may revoke pretrial release from ANY perpetrator who “poses a specific, real and present threat to any person or the community,” or who is deemed a flight risk. That can include perpetrators of any of the crimes listed in the image above.
Keep in mind: pretrial release is just that–release before a person’s trial. An alleged criminal is not free forever. Once they are tried, they are either found guilty and sentenced or found innocent and released.
CLAIM: The SAFE-T Act defunds the police.
FACT: The act has several sections pertaining to police funding, but none that defund the police. Here is a quick look at the sections of the SAFE-T Act that do address police funding:
- Section 21 changes requirements for departments that receive government funding, requiring that those departments be trained on mental health, addiction, racial bias, gender equity, and more. This became effective July 1, 2021.
- Section 35 outlines that up to 10% of department funding should be used for this training. It also states that funding for deflection programs should be prioritized in communities that have been impacted by the war on drugs, communities with insufficient access to mental health or addiction resources, or communities with police relations issues. This became effective July 1, 2021.
- Section 10-15 states that law enforcement agencies that comply with the new body camera requirements will receive preference for funding by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board. This became effective July 1, 2021.
In none of these relevant sections does the SAFE-T Act defund, amend funds, or withdraw funds from Illinois law enforcement.
CLAIM: The government wants to spy on us by putting cameras everywhere.
FACT: Assuming this is in reference to the new Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act outlined in Section 10-145, then technically yes, there will be a lot more cameras on the street. The law institutes a required use of body cameras by all police officers. The SAFE-T Act outlines that municipalities and counties with populations of 500,000 or more should have instituted mandatory body camera use by Jan. 1, 2022, while smaller municipalities and counties have more time to implement it.
Municipalities and counties with populations of 100,000 or more but under 500,000 have until Jan. 1, 2023. If the population is 50,000 or more but under 100,000, they have until Jan. 1, 2024. Finally, for both municipalities and counties under 50,000 and the Illinois State Police, body cameras shall be implemented by January 1, 2025.
CLAIM: This act puts police in danger by removing qualified immunity and allowing anyone to accuse an officer of wrongdoing.
FACT: This is a two-parter. First, the SAFE-T does not remove qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement agencies from being sued for actions an officer performs with the intent of public safety. However, the law did establish the Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies in section 4-5. This group is tasked with “developing and proposing policies and procedures to review and reforming constitutional rights and remedies,” including the evaluation of Illinois’ current qualified immunity system. If the bipartisan task force finds that qualified immunity needs to be reformed, that would be addressed in future legislation, not this bill. The task force was established in 2021.
Second, it is true that the SAFE-T Act section 1-35 introduces an anonymous complaint policy. This allows any person to file a complaint with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board about the conduct of a police officer. The board then reviews these claims. The complainant is allowed to remain anonymous to prevent retaliation or other repercussions of reporting conduct violations. If there is enough evidence to substantiate the claim, then the board will move forward with the investigation. This will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
CLAIM: Democrats will make the state less safe if elected because they want to implement the SAFE-T Act.
FACT: The SAFE-T Act was passed in 2021 and several parts have already been in effect since July 1 of last year. Elections will not determine whether or not these measures are implemented, because they have been in effect already. The removal of cash bail will begin Jan. 1, 2023, regardless of who is elected in November.