Illinois Approves Fixes to Criminal Justice Overhaul to Address Police Concerns

June 5, 2021 Updated: June 5, 2021

CHICAGO—Illinois lawmakers passed a bipartisan trailer bill on Wednesday to improve a month-old criminal justice reform legislation that has been criticized as an “anti-police” measure by the law enforcement community.

The recently enacted SAFE-T Act was hailed by Governor J.B. Pritzker as ensuring “true safety, true fairness, and true justice.” The legislation has been derided by members of the Illinois law enforcement community, who claim it punishes police officers for doing their jobs and would ultimately imperil the safety of law-abiding citizens.

For example, SAFE-T Act makes it a felony for officers if they forget to turn on body-worn cameras while on duty, prohibits officers from reviewing body-camera videos before writing police reports, and has ambiguous language that appears to prohibit officers from aiming a taser at an offender’s back—which is a common practice recommended by many taser manufacturers, according to a fact sheet (pdf) from Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

The trailer bill, spearheaded by Democrat state Sen. Elgie Sims and state Rep. Justin Slaughter, gets rid of the above felony offense and other prohibitions for officers. The bill also has less ambiguous language on imminent threats and use of force.

The bill was introduced and passed in three days, right before the extended spring session of the state legislature concluded. The measure received more than two-thirds of yes votes from bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers.

Sims said in a statement to The Epoch Times, “House Bill 3443 [which includes the trailer bill] moves us another step forward in our efforts to reimagine public safety. I remain committed to transforming the criminal justice system in Illinois in such a way that will uplift our communities while supporting our law enforcement.”

Both Sims and Slaughter were major sponsors of the SAFE-T Act opposed by the law enforcement community. The two got on board with the trailer bill after months of negotiations with the IACP.

Ed Wojcicki, the executive director of the IACP, told The Epoch Times, “I think that sometimes people portray the law enforcement and certain legislators as being adversaries. But in this case, senator Sims and representative Slaughter really listened to our concerns and understood. We showed great respect for each other and that’s going to bode well for the future.”

Not all problems in the SAFE-T Act are cleaned up by the trailer bill, according to an IACP statement. For example, funding for mandatory body cameras still hangs up in the air. IACP plans to continue working the address parts of the SAFE-T Act that come with a future effective date, such as starting to allow anonymous complaints against police officers in 2023.

Illinois State Police also supports the trailer bill. Two major Illinois law enforcement organizations, the Illinois Sheriffs Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, remain neutral on the bill.

The trailer bill now awaits Gov. Pritzker’s approval or veto. Enough votes were cast in favor of the bill to override a veto. If Pritzker does nothing, the bill will automatically become law within 60 days after it is presented to him.