CHICAGO — Illinois is set to become the first state to abolish cash bail under a sweeping criminal justice overhaul Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday.
The massive bill, praised by reform advocates and panned by many in law enforcement, will end cash bail beginning in 2023, require police officers statewide to wear body cameras by 2025, eliminate requirements for signing sworn affidavits when filing complaints against officers, and create a more robust statewide system for tracking police misconduct and decertifying officers who commit wrongdoing, among a host of other changes.
“This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Pritzker said during a signing ceremony at Chicago State University.
Opponents of the legislation “don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system, and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo,” the governor said.
The measure, passed in January during the waning hours of the previous General Assembly’s lame-duck session was advanced by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus as part of its response to the public outcry over the death last year of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Its provisions begin going into effect July 1.
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Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat, said the wide-scale protests that followed Floyd’s death after the coronavirus pandemic already had exposed many of society’s inequities were a call to action for Black lawmakers.
“The tragedies of this last year could have just left us beaten down and defeated. But we did not let it,” Lightford said. “We leveraged it to create real change, to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
Illinois and 26 other states have enacted more than 100 new laws dealing with law enforcement policy since May, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it is the only state so far to eliminate financial conditions for releasing people from custody while they await trial. California approved a similar law in 2018 but voters blocked it from taking effect.
Under the new pretrial system, judges will be given broader discretion to determine whether those accused of crimes pose a danger to a specific person or the community at large and whether they are likely to show up in court without being held in jail. Supporters say the current system too often results in people who haven’t been convicted of any crime being denied their freedom simply because they can’t make bail.
The current system also allows some people who do pose a risk to go free because they can afford to pay, said Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, who joined Cook County’s top prosecutor, Kim Foxx, in backing the proposal.
“We are finally ending the injustice of dangerous people buying their freedom,” Rinehart said.
Foxx thanked lawmakers for “rejecting the false premise that we can either have public safety or criminal justice reform.”
“The reality is you cannot have public safety without criminal justice reform,” she said.
But police unions and leadership organizations, including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, have broadly criticized the changes, arguing that they will make communities less safe by making it easier for people to commit crimes while awaiting trial and putting too many restrictions on police.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, comprising those groups, issued a statement calling the new law “a blatant move to punish an entire, honorable profession that will end up hurting law-abiding citizens the most.”
“Because we are sworn to protect and serve the public, 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,” the coalition said.
Republican lawmakers also roundly criticized the effort, with GOP Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove, a former assistant state’s attorney in Cook County, calling the measure “hyperpartisan.”
“This 700-plus page proposal was rammed through in the middle of the night with just hours left in a lame-duck session without the transparency and discourse expected in a democratic process,” Curran said in a statement.
“There are some positives in this legislation — specifically the changes that make it easier to reprimand and decertify bad actors in law enforcement who have broken the public’s trust. Unfortunately, the negatives, which could have been further negotiated had the sponsors been open to bipartisan support, will undoubtedly make our communities less safe.”
Sen. Elgie Sims, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the proposal was put together through conversations and negotiations that included nine public hearings throughout the fall.
“This process was not rushed,” he said.
Rather than talking about substantive policy disagreements, opponents are “making a partisan issue out of public safety,” Sims said.
Aside from critics in law enforcement, some local government leaders have raised concerns about the cost of purchasing and maintaining body cameras and other provisions that could raise costs by requiring additional training for police officers.
The Illinois Municipal League, which represents local governments across the state, was successful in getting sponsors to rewrite the legislation to remove a provision that would have withheld some state funding from municipalities that failed to comply with the body camera requirements and another that critics said would have made it easier to sue police officers. The group has said it will continue pushing for changes that would prevent towns from having to spend more money.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is preparing her own proposal for civilian oversight of Chicago police, praised the state legislation on Twitter, calling it “a monumental step forward toward addressing the legacy of institutional racism in our justice system.”
As for the financial concerns, Sims, who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he is committed to looking for ways during budget negotiations to help local governments shoulder the cost.
In his budget plan presented last week, Pritzker called for a $10.3 million funding increase for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to help implement new training requirements.
He did not call for any increased funding to help local police departments purchase body cameras, though only the Chicago Police Department and the sheriff’s offices in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties will be required to have them for all officers by Jan. 1.