Illinois moderate Democrats introduce bills supporting law enforcement
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Many Illinois lawmakers feel more should be done to support law enforcement. While Republicans have filed several bills over the past year to do that, moderate Democrats in both chambers introduced their own plans Monday.
A proposal filed Monday could provide grants for behavioral health services for law enforcement. Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago) said survivors of gun violence, and the first responders who witness violence every day, have carried the biggest burden of the violence pandemic the country is in.
“Law enforcement has to be part of any long-term comprehensive plan to tackle this horrifying issue of violence, and in particular, gun violence that we’re dealing with right now,” LaPointe said. “We have to continue to come to the table to listen to the concerns of law enforcement as we all work together to get at the root causes of crime, and finally, get our violence rates down.”
House Bill 1321 could allow the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board to create statewide minimum standards for mental health screenings of officers based on statutory guidelines. LaPointe said the state has overlooked this for too long, but she feels that officers, firefighters, and other first responders will achieve a much better quality of life with mental health resources.
Separate legislation could address issues with recruiting and retaining officers. Rep. Dave Vella (D-Rockford) said his plan could task community colleges with establishing minimum requirements for credits that could satisfy current requirements of law enforcement and correctional intern courses. Another portion of his plan lowers the retirement age for Illinois State Police from 60 to 55 and addresses loopholes in the state’s police pension plan. House Bill 1568 could also analyze why police are leaving the profession, or deciding not to become officers, through a brand new task force.
But there is also a major incentive included in Vella’s plan. His bill would also allow officers to keep their guns and badges after they retire to honor their service. That provision would apply to sheriffs, investigators, probation officers, and security employees who wish to purchase their badge, firearm, or both.
Meanwhile, House Bill 3863 could create a Law Enforcement Recruitment and Retention Fund. Under this plan, the Law Enforcement Training Standards Board would be allowed to provide grants to departments in hopes of hiring and retaining officers.
Another new proposal could lead to more state investment in body cameras, specifically for the storage of body cam footage. Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) said his plan can also help officers flag certain videos if they find it has value as evidence. The bill’s language also states that law enforcement can have their cameras off during training or when they are only around other officers.
“Every minute of every day, policemen and women work to protect us,” said Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon). “They catch criminals, they break down their networks, and ensure justice is served against those who violate the law and they continue to keep order in our communities.”
One of the bills could raise the wage for sheriffs to match 80 percent of the salary for state’s attorneys in each county. This came after 18 sheriffs decided to leave the profession in just over the past year.
“Demands and expectations on law enforcement continue to increase. Unfortunately, the funding to support these new demands has not always coincided with those new responsibilities,” said Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association. “These proposals will certainly assist us in recognizing the importance of the roles and provide them with some much-needed support.”
Another proposal could create a new grant program to provide mental health and substance abuse prevention services in county jails to prevent recidivism. The services would also be available for people recently discharged.
While most Democrats supported the SAFE-T Act, which included many police reforms, moderate Democrats said the state still must support officers.
“These ideas are smart, next century ideas about policing,” said Rep. Dave Vella (Vella said). “We will hope this will give young Black youth the ability to trust police officers in the future.”
One of the proposals would create an off-hours child care grant program to help law enforcement, firefighters, nurses, and other third-shift workers. This plan could require the Department of Human Services to provide grants to licensed child care facilities to expand their programs to include night or sleeping time child care for those employees.
House Bill 3893 could extend the current sunset date for certain eavesdropping exemptions. Bennett explained that this plan could allow law enforcement to use devices to record conversations during qualified investigations of drug and sex offenses for four additional years, until Jan. 1, 2027. The same plan extends the state’s street gang and racketeer-influenced and corrupt organizations law to June 11, 2023.
Sponsors hope the bills can move before the spring session is scheduled to end Friday. It’s still too early to know if the bills will gain bipartisan support. Yet, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin quickly criticized the ideas Monday.
“Democrats in Illinois have repeatedly attacked our police and justice system. Today, they are trying to rewrite history,” Durkin said. “Until they wake up and repeal their pro-criminal SAFE-T Act, there will be no safe communities in Illinois.”
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