Illinois Statehouse

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House of Representatives continued to debate a massive criminal justice omnibus bill Sunday that would transform policing practices in the state.

A 611-page amendment to House Bill 163 would heavily revamp use-of-force guidelines, mandate body cameras for every law enforcement agency, end cash bail, remove some qualified immunity protections, and strip collective bargaining rights relating to discipline from police unions. Further language could be added in a future amendment as well.

The legislation, which is the culmination of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus agenda to end what it says is systemic racism, faces opposition from law enforcement groups and Republican lawmakers.

Among those opposing the bill is Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, who said the bill, if approved, “would effectively eliminate law enforcement as we know it.”

“Our law enforcement officers are among some of the most honest, brave and best in our nation and this bill would likely drive a large majority of them out of public service as a result,” Downey said in a Facebook post. “This is single-handedly the most detrimental piece of legislation ever proposed and I think it’s crucial that our area residents understand the underlying implications if it were to pass.”

Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat who helped craft HB163, took part in a news conference held Sunday morning by the Black Caucus.

“This has been a 400-year-plus journey that we have been on. We want to go from protest to progress,” he repeated three times with increasing emphasis.

Slaughter chairs the House Criminal Judiciary Committee, which must accept the amendment before it can go to the House floor for a vote. The committee heard testimony and debate on the bill from law enforcement, municipal representation, legal experts and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Use of force

HB163 would amend the acceptable forms of force by officers, banning chokeholds and restraints that can restrict breathing as well as severely limiting the situations where deadly force is authorized. The reforms were strongly opposed by the law enforcement coalition during the hearing.

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, representing the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, called the proposed reforms “catastrophic” to law enforcement and said they would make policing impossible for officers that have to make split-second decisions.

Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black, who serves as president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said he supports reforms to use of force but HB163 is not the answer.

“We do not want to be obstructionist; we want to affect positive change in our communities. But we do not support the bill, the bill will destroy law enforcement’s ability to keep communities safe,” he said.

When pressed by Slaughter on what changes to the use-of-force guidelines they would accept, Black and VanVickle did not have an answer, but replied the five days provided in the lame duck session were not enough time for their legal experts to craft alternative measures.

The sentiment was echoed by the ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Terri Bryant.

“No one is asking this to be slow rolled. Lame duck session is not the time to hash out a 600, now maybe 800, maybe 1,000-page issue on something that is this important,” she said. “Too often the Legislature wants to do something even if that’s the wrong thing. So let’s do the right things and let’s do this the right way.”

Slaughter and Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who also crafted the legislation, have pushed back on the notion that the bill is rushed, pointing to the nine hearings held by the Black Caucus on criminal justice reform. Most topics discussed in those hearings, which neared 30 hours in collective length and included both the IACP and ISA at times, are in the amendment.

“Our state makes international news regarding police brutality and misconduct,” Slaughter said during the hearing, invoking the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.

Body cameras

Body cameras would be mandatory for all law enforcement agencies under the law. Larger agencies would be required to have cameras in place by Jan. 1, 2022, and all agencies would need to have cameras in place by 2025.

Any municipality or county whose law enforcement agency does not comply would have its Local Government Distributive Fund contributions from the state reduced by 20 percent each year until it meets the requirements. The LGDF is the portion of state income tax revenue that goes to cities and counties.

Law enforcement groups, including the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago FOP, have referred to the Black Caucus legislation as the “Defund the police bill” because of this provision, a notion repeated by Chief Black, of Crystal Lake.

Slaughter and other members of the Black Caucus have disputed the characterization, given that law enforcement agencies are given time to comply and do not have funding cut outright.

“We cannot afford not to make the changes we’re calling for,” Sims said during the Black Caucus’ Sunday news conference, pointing to a 2020 study by economists at Citigroup that says the U.S. lost $16 trillion in GDP since 2000 due to racism.

The Black Caucus has pointed to the losses in potential tax revenue due to racist practices, as well as the massive settlements cities pay out each year due to police misconduct, as the cost of not passing their legislation.

The amendment as written does not provide law enforcement agencies any monetary assistance for acquiring and implementing body cameras. VanVickle and Black both testified their law enforcement agencies would have no issues with body cameras being mandatory if they received fiscal support from the state and the funding penalty for noncompliance was removed.

Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, which represents towns, villages and cities across the state, said IML opposes any measure that would negatively impact LGDF. However, it supports mandatory body cameras as long as the timeline for departments was extended by a few years.