Illinois Statehouse

KANKAKEE — While Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said his department will work to comply with the police reform bill passed Wednesday by the Illinois General Assembly, he is disappointed.

“I’m not disappointed that the bill passed,” he said. “I am disappointed that no one brought law enforcement to the table when creating this bill. Working together is important. It helps you succeed in improving things.”

For now, Downey said they will keep doing their job.

“The bottom line is there are good deputies and good police officers in Kankakee County. We’ll make the adjustments and continue to work hard to keep the citizens of Kankakee County safe.”

The Illinois Senate passed the criminal justice omnibus bill early Wednesday morning after 20 hours of politicking during Tuesday’s lame duck session. The House followed suit Wednesday morning, clearing the way for the bill to head to the governor.

The legislation is made up of several provisions that touch all facets of the criminal justice system. The Pretrial Fairness Act, a longtime passion project to end cash bail in Illinois by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, and a complete overhaul of police certification crafted by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul were both absorbed into the omnibus package.

The legislation, an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, was tied to a new amendment to House Bill 3653, introduced in the early-morning hours Wednesday following mostly private negotiations that stripped down many controversial provisions in the bill.

But some leaders in the Kankakee County area say the legislation still needs some tweaking. Among them are Theodis Pace, president of the Kankakee County branch of the NAACP; State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-40th District,; and Bourbonnais Police Chief Jim Phelps.

“The current house bill has many positives in regards to police reform but there are some areas that need to be addressed,” Pace said.

State Sen. Elgie Sims Jr., D-17th District, sponsored the legislation.

“I am gratified that the Senate has passed this major reform package, and I believe it is the first step to transforming criminal justice in Illinois in a way that will uplift our communities and support our law enforcement professionals,” Sims said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate.

“This increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, modernizes our bail and sentencing systems, and provides for greater protections and more humane treatment of those who have been arrested and accused of crime.”

Joyce said he did not like the process used to get the bill passed. It was introduced Jan. 5, one week before the lame duck veto session. Then, he said, the Senate voted to pass the bill at 5 a.m. Six hours later, the House approved it.

Downey also expressed frustration with the timing of the process.

“It is frustrating,” he said. “They are doing this at 3 or 4 in the morning. If the bill is good, why not introduce it in the next General Assembly?”

Joyce said he negotiated with Sims.

“We were going back and forth,” he said. “I talked to a lot of constituents, people in law enforcement, the NAACP, pastors and ministers. They were all in agreement there were things that needed to be addressed.”

Joyce said they had less than an hour to read the bill, which totaled more than 700 pages.

“I didn’t like the process,” he said.

COVID-19 also proved to be a hurdle, Joyce said. While there were hearings held on the bill, those were held virtually.

Joyce said he chose “not voting” because he wasn’t against the bill but he couldn’t vote yes while still having questions.

“I didn’t want to send the wrong message to my constituents,” he said. “In the last two weeks, I have had a lot of people who have called me. A lot had concerns about the bill being amended a week before the lame duck session.

“We had an hour before we voted to go through 700 pages,” Joyce said.

Joyce was one of three senators who chose to register as not voting.

“I didn’t want to vote no or yes. There were parts of the bill that worked and other parts that needed work,” he said. “In hindsight, maybe I should have hit the yellow button. It was a very long day.”

To register a vote in the Illinois General Assembly, lawmakers have a choice of three buttons on their desk. The “yes” button is green. The “no” button is red, and the “present” button is yellow.

“In the next session, my colleagues and I will work on tweaking portions.”

The bill awaits the signature of Gov. JB Pritzker.

It provides sweeping reforms that deal with bail bond, body cameras, use of force, qualified immunity for officers, police certification and detainee rights.

Qualified immunity

One of the biggest changes to the bill as it moved through the Illinois General Assembly was the gutting of a provision that would have ended qualified immunity for officers, eliminating their protection from liability in civil suits if they violated rights guaranteed in the Illinois Constitution.

Instead, the legislation creates a yearlong Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies which will investigate and develop procedures to protect constitutional rights and remedies should those rights be violated. The task force will specifically look at qualified immunity as enjoyed by law enforcement.

If the original definitions would have been put in place, according to law enforcement who spoke out against the bill, said it would have resulted in many officers leaving the force.

“There was a serious lack of understanding in regards to this,” Pace said.

Pace said it would even make blacks think twice about a career in law enforcement.

Body cameras

The bill amends the Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act. It mandates that by 2025 all police departments regardless of size must have body cameras for all officers.

This provision drew much criticism from law enforcement organizations around the state who touted it as the “defund the police” bill.

In the bill’s original language, agencies that did not compile by 2025 would be penalized by a reduction of how much state funding municipalities received for each year law enforcement agencies under their control violated the mandate.

Now, compliance is rewarded and the penalty has been removed, with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board giving preference in grant funding to agencies following the mandate.

Despite the revisions, Downey said the measure is still detrimental.

“The cost to store all the data, the cost to respond to the FOIA requests will lead to a reduction in other areas,” Downey said. “Hiring staff to deal with this will take away funds for policing.”

Pace argues the provision is an unfunded mandate.

“We feel body cameras are a good thing, but they didn’t address how to pay for it,” Pace said. “You go mandate it but you don’t give them funds needed.”

Bourbonnais Police Department is the lone department in Kankakee County that has all officers wearing body cams. This started in 2014.

“The department and our village board know how valuable these are,” Bourbonnais Chief Jim Phelps said. “Storage and maintaining the system are costly,” he said.

Dealing with FOIA requests is another area of contention, Phelps said.

“We don’t get money for all the paper records and videos we copy. We don’t get a dime,” he said. “Law firms manipulate the system because they don’t have to be charged. They pass the cost onto their clients.”

Detainee rights

The bill expands rights of people who are taken into custody by police. The state’s 1963 Code of Criminal Procedure is amended and modernized regarding phone calls.

Suspects in custody must be given the opportunity to make three phone calls within three hours of being taken into police custody. Every time they are detained in a new location, this right is renewed for the purpose of speaking to their attorney and notifying family and friends of their situation.

The new provision also gives detainees the right to access the contact list on their cellphone to obtain numbers as part of their three phone calls, even if the cellphone is being used as evidence in a criminal investigation. This must be done before the phone is officially placed into police inventory.

Capitol Illinois News contributed to this story.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.