The Phasing Out of Police Protections in Illinois: Column from State Senator Andrew Chesney

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Over the last several years, there has been a gradual diminishment in the role law enforcement plays in keeping communities safe, and the system that administers justice to those convicted of crimes. This attack on our criminal justice system and the men and women whose job it is to apprehend criminals has been deliberately phased.

Over time, Illinois has become a soft-on-crime state that places the well-being of criminals and the accused far ahead of crime victims, their families, and Illinoisans who have the right to feel safe in their neighborhoods. 

The beginning of this coordinated plan dates back to 2020, when Governor JB Pritzker quietly used his expanded executive powers to release more than 1,000 prison inmates from Department of Corrections facilities. Some were guilty of serious crimes, even murder, that carried a life sentence. These prisoners were released in the name of COVID-19 safety, with no thought whatsoever given to the safety of their victims. 

The next phase took place in 2021, when Democrats passed the (un)SAFE-T Act in the middle of the night during a “lame duck” session of the Legislature. The Act severely limits police officers’ ability to use force when apprehending a suspect, yet grants the accused expanded rights once they are in custody.  

The law also includes an appearance requirement that could place a victim and an assailant in the same courtroom within hours of a crime, and a provision that allows anonymous complaints and civil lawsuits to be filed against police officers. Is it any wonder there is a critical-level vacancy rate at police departments and sheriffs’ offices across the state? 

Additionally, the (un)SAFE-T Act essentially “defunds police” through an expansive list of costly unfunded mandates. This has caused many departments to decrease the number of sworn officers they are able to put on the streets, and at least three downstate police departments (Godfrey, East Galesburg, Washburn) to disband, leaving public safety only to their county sheriffs’ departments.  

At the same time many of the (un)SAFE-T Act’s provisions were taking hold, Governor Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board (PRB) was also releasing violent criminals back onto the streets. The PRB is a 15-person body that includes individuals appointed by the Governor. They decide whether inmates should be released early from prison.

The Illinois Constitution requires these appointees be confirmed by the Senate within 60 session days of their appointment; however, at one point last year, several members had served for years without facing a confirmation hearing. Governor Pritzker repeatedly circumvented the confirmation process by pulling appointments just prior to the 60th day and then reappointing them to restart the confirmation clock.

In fact, at one point last year, 10 members of the panel had not been confirmed. These PRB members make $92,305 per year for a six-year term. They hold a great deal of power and are making serious public safety decisions. Shouldn’t they be fully vetted and approved as required by law? 

Perhaps the most contentious element of the (un)SAFE-T Act, the elimination of cash bail was set to take effect on January 1 of this year. A successful legal challenge that resulted in confusion and chaos with implementation ultimately led the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend the elimination of cash bail statewide pending their judicial review. But other provisions, like making Class B and Class C criminal misdemeanors non-arrestable offenses, did take effect on January 1. 

Now, the Democrat supermajority wants to remove more than 100 different kinds of firearms from lawful citizens who went through the state’s FOID Card and background check process and legally purchased these guns but do not want to submit to a bureaucratic registration and fee system. 

These and other new laws slowly chip away at public safety and the integrity of the law enforcement profession in our state. Police have less power, and lawful citizens are facing new infringements on their constitutional gun rights, all while criminals enjoy all the benefits of a turnstile criminal justice system that does not hold them truly accountable for their crimes. We can do better!  

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