Illinois legislators passed an amendment last week that tweaks the criminal reform bill signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker earlier this year.
The Safe-T Act was passed in January during the lame-duck session of the 101st General Assembly, just hours before the 102nd General Assembly was sworn in.
A major criminal justice reform backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, portions of the bill go into effect on July 1 while others will be phased in through 2025.
The changes put forth in the amendment (also known as a “trailer bill”) relax rules around body cameras, remove some use-of-force restriction language and extend deadlines for new training standards.
The bill awaits the signature of Pritzker.
“The changes outlined in the trailer bill are a step in the right direction in rectifying horribly written legislation, however there is still a long ways to go in having legislation that won’t still hamper law enforcement’s ability to properly serve our communities,” Bourbonnais Police Chief Jim Phelps said.
“The law was vague. It needed work to define some issues,” Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater added.
Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey has been vocal in his criticism of parts of the bill since and prior to its passage.
“It was clear this bill was going to be changed,” he said. “The bill was jammed through the Legislature. People, including those who voted on it, didn’t get a chance to read through all of it. It’s a start.”
Introducing the amendments was State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, whose district includes Beecher, Grant Park and Manteno.
“Public safety has always been the No. 1 priority of the SAFE-T Act and our goal remains the same — to create safer communities,” Sims said in a statement.
“That’s why, when negotiating these changes, we again included input from advocates, law enforcement officials and various stakeholders.”
Law enforcement organizations worked with legislators. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois State Police supported Sims’ legislation.
The IACP approved of the amendment’s changes which include relaxing rules around body cameras, removing some use-of-force restriction language and extending deadlines for new training standards, according to a statement posted on the IACP website.
“The trailer bill to the SAFE-T Act, filed and released [May 31] on the last day of the spring legislative session, addresses many of our most egregious concerns in the law,” IACP’s statement said.
Even with the changes, Downey said police reform is an ongoing process.
“Law enforcement consistently is reforming policy for the safety of the public and police officers,” Downey said.
A provision in the SAFE-T Act prevented officers accused of misconduct or involved in a shooting, or who have used force which resulted in bodily harm, from using footage from their body camera or recordings from other officers when writing reports of the incident.
HB 3443 keeps that provision in place, but adds language that allows an officer, with a supervisor’s approval, to file a supplementary report for which they can access body camera footage.
Deadly force provisions are also changed.
The SAFE-T Act instituted limits on when an officer may use deadly force to two scenarios — when they believe deadly force is needed to prevent death or harm to themselves or another person, or when an individual who “just” committed a violent crime and cannot be caught at a later time is attempting to escape, is likely to cause great harm to another person and only deadly force can stop them.
The amendment removes the word “just,” requiring only that a violent felony was committed in general. The amendment also removes the requirement that a dangerous individual “cannot be apprehended at a later date,” leaving the restrictions that an officer must believe only deadly force is able to stop the suspect and that the suspect is likely to greatly injure another person.
As a counterbalance to the removed language, the amendment adds that the officer’s ability to use deadly force ends when the threat of “bodily harm to the officer or another” ends.
Chokeholds, which are considered deadly force under the SAFE-T Act, are defined as any direct pressure to the throat, windpipe or airway. The amendment carves out an exception for contact with an individual’s neck “that is not intended to reduce the intake of air.” An example listed is a “headlock” which can be wrapped around a suspect’s forehead or chin.
A provision on law enforcement misconduct is also changed to be more lenient under the amendment. In order for an officer to be charged with law enforcement misconduct, a Class 3 felony, the officer must have knowingly and intentionally misrepresented or withheld knowledge of the facts of a case with the intent to obstruct the prosecution or defense of an individual, under the amendment.