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Crowe, Democrats seek to shore up ranks of Illinois law enforcement

Many of the proposals will need funding when the state approves a budget this week

By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
jnowicki@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Flanked by members of law enforcement advocacy groups, about a dozen Democrats from both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly called a news conference Monday to tout proposals that they say will help with the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers.

The lawmakers touted a proposal creating a Law Enforcement Recruitment and Retention Fund, bills focusing on officer mental health, the creation of a grant program for off-hours day care, and a measure requiring counties to pay their sheriff 80 percent of their state’s attorney’s pay.

There was not, however, any appropriations bill tied to the new funds, meaning funding would have to be provided in the budget process which is scheduled to wrap up Friday.

Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, said the measures came out of a House public safety working group.

“This public safety working group has gotten together to come up with real commonsense ideas on how to get things done in a new way – the old way doesn’t work, the old way that the people on the other side of the aisle are throwing out don’t work,” he said. “These are new ways that will hopefully take us into the next century with cleaner streets, safer streets.”

It was the second news conference addressing rising crime by Democrats in the past two weeks as the party faces near constant attacks on crime from Republicans seven months ahead of an election that will see every seat in the General Assembly up for a vote.

Unlike at last week’s news conference touting witness protection and community investment programs, the majority party on Monday was accompanied by law enforcement groups that have staunchly opposed the criminal justice reform known as the SAFE-T Act which Democrats passed in January 2021.

At the news conference was Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ed Wojcicki.

Members of the Sheriffs’ Association have been among the staunchest opponents of the SAFE-T Act, citing such provisions as reforms to use-of-force standards and officer certification, as well as an end of cash bail beginning next year, as contributing factors to officer resignations.

While opposed to the SAFE-T Act, the law enforcement groups previously worked with lawmakers on two trailer bills that softened use-of-force guidelines and pushed back implementation dates of decertification standards among other changes.

Kaitschuk, after the news conference, told Capitol News Illinois he viewed the measures proposed Monday as separate from the SAFE-T Act, and declined to directly answer whether he believed they would counteract any real or perceived negative effects on officer recruitment that resulted from the 2021 criminal justice reform.

“This wasn’t about the SAFE-T Act,” he said after Monday’s news conference. “This was about efforts to recruit and retain. And this has been a – it hasn’t been just one thing that caused the issues in terms of recruitment and retention. Back in the 90s, we had a lot of federal funding that came to hire officers, those officers – one, the funding went away, and two, those officers are obviously, they’re my age, so they’re retirement age, so they’ve moved on to other careers and retired.”

The measures laid out Monday are a message from lawmakers “that we do care about law enforcement,” Kaitschuk said, making recruitment and retainment easier.

The Law Enforcement Recruitment and Retention Fund, contained as an amendment to House Bill 3863, would be subject to the appropriations process, but would allow the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to award grants to local governments, public higher education institutions and qualified nonprofits for the purpose of hiring and retaining officers.

Preference would be given to efforts that bolster departments with the greatest need and ones that diversify police departments. The fund would be allowed to accept gifts.

Another measure, contained in House Bill 1568, allows retiring officers to purchase their service weapon and badge, and makes a change to police pensions from current law pertaining to the deferred retirement option plan for law officers. Lawmakers said the law as written disincentivizes working past age 55, but the bill would change that, they believe, while remaining revenue neutral.

That measure also calls on ILETSB and the Illinois Community College Board to report recommendations to the General Assembly for establishing minimum requirements for credit transfers satisfying the requirements of law enforcement and correctional intern courses.

An amendment to House Bill 4608 would allow for body camera video retention for evidentiary value and allow grant funds to be used for data storage costs.

An amendment to House Bill 1321 creates the First Responder Behavioral Health Grant Fund, also subject to appropriations, that would provide grants to local governments, law enforcement agencies, fire districts, school districts, hospitals or ambulance services, for expenses related to behavioral health care for first responders.

That measure would also allow ILETSB to establish statewide minimum standards for mental health screenings for officers.

An amendment to House Bill 4364 would create the Fund Mental Health and Substance Use Prevention Fund, also subject to appropriations, to create grants to local governments and public universities to provide mental health and substance use prevention to people who are incarcerated.

An amendment to House Bill 1571 creates a child care grant program, also subject to appropriations, to fund providers who expand after-hours and nightly child care for children of first responders and other late-shift workers.

Another measure, in House Bill 3893, extends from Jan. 2023 to Jan. 1, 2027, the expiration of a law that allows law enforcement to use a device to record a conversation during an investigation of certain offenses, including murder, drug and sex offenses. It also extends the expiration of the Illinois Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Law by one year to June 11, 2023.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Crowe weighs in on situation

State Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, joined the Illinois Senate Democrats on the legislative package aimed at supporting law enforcement officers and improving the state’s criminal justice system.

“Every minute of every day, police men and women work to protect us. They catch criminals, break down their networks, and ensure justice is served against those who violate law and order in our neighborhoods,” Crowe said. “Our brave members of law enforcement show up for us, and Illinois is continuing to show up for them by creating new grant opportunities, retaining quality officers, offering investigative resources and more.”

To help promote fair compensation across the state, House Bill 4228 requires a county sheriffs’ salary to equal at least 80 percent of the county’s state’s attorney’s salary. House Bill 3863 creates the Law Enforcement Recruitment and Retention Fund to support departments through the hiring and training processes and help retention strategies.

Body cameras are critical for keeping officers safe as well as improving evidence quality and reducing liability for agencies. House Bill 4608 allows for video retention for evidentiary value and allows grant funds to be used for data storage costs.

In an effort to improve the correctional system and reduce recidivism, House Bill 4364 creates the Fund Mental Health and Substance Use Prevention Fund to allow the Department of Human Services to offer grants and programs in county jails for incarcerated individuals or people who have been recently discharged.

House Bill 3893 extends a sunset date to allow investigators to continue recording conversations for qualified sex and drug offenses from Jan. 1, 2023 to Jan. 1, 2027.

“In my previous experience as a violent crimes prosecutor, I worked closely with law enforcement to go through evidence, testimonies and other information in serious cases,” Crowe said. “Hiring, training and retaining quality officers is one of the strongest ways to ensure officers are safe, residents are protected, and communities are secure.”

The package has support from the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois State Police.

The Senate is scheduled to adjourn April 8.

 

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