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Pritzker, foes square off on criminal justice law

Crain's Chicago Business

Monday, February 22, 2021  |  Article  |  Greg Hinz

Pritzker, J.B.

The governor signed a bill that drew intense fire from some law enforcement groups but praise from the General Assembly's Black Caucus.

 

To both extraordinary praise and a cascade of deafeningly loud boos, Gov. J.B. Pritzker today signed into law a criminal justice reform bill intended to change how police and prosecutors work in a politically polarized state.

 

The law—key provisions ban cash bail, require police body cams on all officers by 2025 and set statewide standards for officers to get mental health screening and receive needed assistance—seems certain to become a major issue in Pritzker’s expected 2022 re-election race. Neither he nor foes held back today.

 

In a signing ceremony, Pritzker termed the new law "a transformative step forward in Illinois' effort to lead the country in dismantling systemic racism." In particular, it achieves his goals of insuring that people are not jailed just because they don’t have money, to shift handling of drug offenses to the health system from criminal prosecution and to begin to end unfairly long jail sentences, he said.

 

“Opponents don’t want any change,” Pritzker said. “They do not believe there is any injustice.”

 

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was even more blunt. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said, quoting a 1960s civil-rights anthem. “Justice cannot wait.”

 

Republicans and law enforcement groups saw it entirely differently.

 

The new law “mandates the immediate release of persons arrested for burglary, arson and kidnapping onto our streets while they await trial,” Illinois GOP Chairman Don Tracy said in a statement. “Pritzker’s signing of this bill has ensured that police protection in Illinois will become more passive and criminals will become more aggressive.”

 

Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin termed the measure “an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois who work to live free of violence and destruction from the criminal element.” Added Durkin, “This past year, Chicago has been traumatized with epic acts of violence through murders and carjacking with no apparent end in sight. At this crucial time when we should coalesce around the good men and women of law enforcement, Gov. Pritzker has turned his back on them.”

 

The new law is "a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most,” the Chicago and Illinois units of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs said in a joint statement. “We sincerely hope that we will not be proven right about this new law, that it won’t cause police officers to leave the profession in droves and handcuff those who remain so they can’t stop crimes against people and property. . . .We urge all citizens to remember who supported this law.”

But the BlackRoots Alliance cheered the new law’s ban on chokeholds, lethal restraints and use of deadly force against suicidal people. “This legislation is a move toward ensuring that Illinois invests in communities impacted by mass incarceration, police misconduct and violence," the progressive reform group said in a statement. So did a long line of others who spoke at the signing ceremony, including Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

 

Foes of the new law argued that it was rushed through the Legislature on a largely party-line vote during the General Assembly’s brief lame-duck session in January. The leading proponent, the Legislature’s Black Caucus, countered that elements of the legislation have been considered for years and that the final bill was drafted after lengthy hearings the caucus led.

 

Under the new measure, certain police disciplinary procedures no longer can come up in collective bargaining. That’s a key item in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is in sometimes heated negotiations for a new contract with FOP.

 

The measure also requires police to say why someone was stopped before being charged with resisting arrest, requires an officer to intervene if a colleague uses excessive force and allows anonymous complaints against police. The latter is major problem for police unions.

 

The measure also expands rights for those who are incarcerated, puts new limits on no-knock raids, bans the use of military equipment such as tracked vehicles and bayonets and allows judges to deviate from mandatory-minimum sentences.

 

The legislation does require police to be licensed but does make it easier to decertify them under certain circumstances.