Local law enforcement fear the consequences of House Bill 163, if passed

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Illinois lawmakers announced Tuesday a legislative plan for sweeping police reform. Local county sheriffs worry about what this could mean for public safety in Peoria and Tazewell counties.

“In essence, the bill defunds the police,” Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower said.

“We all agree there needs to be reform. Hands down” Brian Asbell, Peoria County Sheriff, said. “I just don’t know that this bill, the way it’s written, and everything they place in this, is the way to do it. And actually, I saw it’s not. It’s dangerous. It’s dangerous again, for public safety, and for the profession itself.”

They both said they think this is a rushed attempt to get sweeping reform into Illinois law. They said they wish this would not be part of the lame-duck session, but rather, talked about more thoroughly before any decisions are made.

Reforms are numerous but include eliminating cash bail and sworn affidavits, meaning anonymous complaints against officers can be used against that officer. It also eliminates qualified immunity, meaning officers would no longer have blanket protection from civil lawsuits.

“It would cause, well, a mass exodus,” Lower said. “Anybody that’s able to retire would retire, and we wouldn’t be able to hire somebody to do the job simply because they don’t want to get sued for doing the job.

Another reform it mandates is body cameras to be worn at all times, including an extensive list of new training programs. Lower said even the former mandate would cost the department half a million dollars and they simply cannot afford it.

The Peoria and Tazewell county sheriffs are not alone in these sentiments. The Illinois Sheriffs Association wrote on Facebook, “This is not police reform. This is an attack on the law enforcement profession which will not only destroy your livelihood but also endangers the safety of the citizens throughout Illinois.”

The Illinois Law Enforcement Association released a statement saying:

The so-called ‘reforms’ that are part of House Bill 163 as amended would destroy law enforcement’s ability to keep communities safe. The authors of this legislation are not law enforcement professionals with hundreds of years of combined experience and this bill was drafted without law enforcement input, and because of that the long-term unintended consequences of this legislation would be dire. The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition recently enumerated its Safe Communities plan, a sensible approach to modernizing Illinois law enforcement, but House Bill 163 as amended would lead to unsafe communities in Illinois. We urge the Illinois General Assembly to avoid making a sudden, rash decision in the Lame Duck Session and instead work carefully with all stakeholders to truly examine what needs to be done regarding law enforcement in Illinois.

In response, the Illinois Black Caucus released a statement of their disapproval of this stance:

From our perspective, our communities know what they need in order to be kept safe. We come from the communities we represent. Our experiences, combined with our understanding of policy, have shaped our legislative approach, and they cannot be dismissed when it comes to determining what our communities need. Over the last several months, we held multiple subject matter hearings on a variety of topics, during which members of law enforcement were invited to testify and present their point-of-view. Much of the legislation in question has existed for quite some time, and is the culmination of years’ long work. The timing of the statement’s release is disappointing given the events that have occurred over the last 48 hours, particularly in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and in Washington, D.C. There is a divisive discord in our nation. Now is not the time to add fuel to the fire. We as a caucus want to work with everyone to pass an agenda rooted in declaring that Black lives matter and ensuring that everyone in this state can be made whole.

The lame duck session runs until Jan 13. Some Illinois lawmakers wholeheartedly back the bill. Senator Elgie Sims said in a statement:

“After months of discussions and negotiations, many hours of input from the community and the informed opinions of policy experts who have devoted themselves to criminal justice reform, I’m proud to carry House Bill 163 in the Senate. This legislation will make a number of important reforms that will make our system fairer and hold it to account. That will make a better, safer Illinois, not just for the Black community, but for all Illinoisans. We are seeking comprehensive reform by addressing a number of key areas, including how police use force and how they are held accountable for that use of force, how we deal with bail in a way that is not destructive to those who have not been convicted of crimes, and how we change sentencing so that it does not continue to perpetuate a cycle of recidivism. These changes will ultimately lead to safer and more just law enforcement system for all Illinois.

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