Illinois Legislature Sends Massive Police Reform Bill To The Governor's Desk

from the it's-broken-so-start-fixing-it dept

A serious set of police reforms has passed through the Illinois legislature and is headed to the governor's desk. You can tell it's a good set of reforms because the police union hates it.

In the final hours of the legislative session, state senator Elgie Sims did no one any favors by introducing a 764-page amendment to the reform bill that had already passed. That's not a cool move, no matter what the ends are. No one can possibly hope to read and comprehend something of that size with only a few hours left in the session, as another state senator pointed out on his Facebook page.

But it's not as if the state senators had no idea what was contained in the bill. More than a week earlier, one of the state's police unions was already complaining about its contents and asking legislators to vote the bill down. The union's list of complaints looks like a comprehensive set of reforms -- something almost any other person or entity in the state would view as positives. Here's the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police's bitch list about the earlier, 611-page police reform bill, followed by commentary:

Eliminates Qualified Immunity for police officers, making them civilly liable to siren chasing trial lawyers

Qualified immunity needs to go. It has encouraged bad behavior by cops by making it almost impossible for them to be held accountable for their actions. As one Appeals Court judge recently pointed out, qualified immunity turns civil rights litigation into a rigged game citizens almost always lose.

Eliminates Officer’s rights to Collectively Bargain, creating a “special class” of public employee who does not have these rights in Illinois

A step towards eliminating police unions is a step towards accountability. This point can't be argued. History has proven this much.

It Eliminates impartial arbitration over burdensome residency requirements

Asking cops to live near the people they serve shouldn't be burdensome. When cops are commuting from distant suburbs and neighboring towns to protect and serve, it's pretty tough for them to feel any empathy for the people they police or contribute to any sense of community.

Allows for unrestricted and ungoverned disciplinary policies of law enforcement officers

Likely hyperbole, just like the line that opens the FOP's post:

Late on January 5th, the Illinois General Assembly filed a 611 page bill that eliminates law enforcement as we know it from every community in the State.

LOL. Ok.

Prohibits departments from taking advantage of cost-saving federal surplus programs

An less-dishonest phrasing would explain that this bill prevents cops from acquiring military gear like assault rifles, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles. The Defense Department's 1033 program has driven a wedge between the police and policed, and has delivered no measurable improvement to law enforcement safety or crime reduction.

Allows officers to be punished or fired based on anonymous and unsubstantiated or unverifiable complaints

Oh, I doubt that.

Mandates that those unsubstantiated and unverified complaints be kept to be used against officers forever, with no destruction and no limits on how they can be utilized to inflict harm on officers

Stop your crying. Arrest records are permanent, even if arrestees are never convicted of the alleged crimes. There's no reason officers shouldn't have a permanent record that reflects their years of service -- both the good and the bad. Files will note claims that are unsubstantiated and unverified. Those won't hurt officers because, well, verified/substantiated complaints rarely have a negative effect on law enforcement officers' careers.

Substantially increases both initial and ongoing education requirements with no money to pay for the increased costs and no assurances that the courses will even be offered

That's a problem that needs to be addressed. But dismissing it out of hand because all the details aren't in writing yet is counterproductive.

Mandates the use of body cameras by all departments for every officer with no money to pay for the cost of those cameras

Pretty sure the police will pay for the cameras. They'll pay for it the way they pay for everything else: tax dollars. Or, if money's tight, maybe cops could free up some of their asset forfeiture funds to buy this equipment.

Defunds any department that does not comply 100% with the draconian requirements of the legislation

Again, hyperbole. There should be consequences for not complying with [checks notes] state law, but very few local governments are actually willing to defund police departments. Losing some of your budget because of compliance failures is not "defunding."

Eliminates funding for law enforcement agencies

LOL. No.

Eliminates Cash Bail

Cash bail simply allows the less fortunate to see their fortunes suffer even further. It's pretty difficult to keep your life running while in jail and it's impossible to earn money to pay bail while behind bars.

Enacts multiple benefits for felons

Who even knows what the FOP is saying here. The FOP might be referring to the felony murder rule, which is curtailed by this legislation. Felony murder is a hell of a thing, allowing people to be charged with murder if some act they committed resulted in the death of a person -- even if they never directly interacted with that person. For instance, selling drugs that later result in someone's fatal overdose can trigger the felony murder rule.

Prohibits use of force in almost all situations, and makes officers criminally liable for virtually any use of force

No. It doesn't. It tempers the use of force by ensuring it's justifiable. And when it isn't, it can result in criminal charges. The implementation of standards for force deployment is not a "prohibition" just because it eliminates some officer discretion.

Removes prohibitions against obstructing police officers

It doesn't do anything of the sort. It simply makes it a misdemeanor not punishable by more than 48 hours in jail or 100 hours of community service. This makes it less likely obstruction charges will be used to punish people for not being sufficiently deferential to cops.

Charges officers with Official Misconduct, a class 3 felony, for banal and incidental issues

One man's banal is another man's egregious offense. What cops may think are "banal" violations are actually disturbing to those outside of law enforcement and often surface indicators of systemic problems departments aren't dealing with properly. Increasing the severity of the punishment is a good deterrent.

That's the FOP's take. And the FOP really didn't need to be so worried about it. No one was going to be able to pass a bill with all of this included. The last-second amendment stripped out a bunch of the really good stuff.

Some more controversial elements were eliminated from the final version of the bill to secure its passage. One would have reduced the power of police unions to bargain over disciplinary procedures. Another would have ended qualified immunity for civil rights violations, which would have made individual officers — instead of taxpayers — financially liable if a court found they intentionally violated the constitution.

Dammit. Passing a qualified immunity ban somewhere in the nation would be a great start -- a test case to see if it actually would result in the parade of litigation horrors cop officials claim it would. That will have to wait for another day and another legislature.

But a lot of good stuff remains. The passed version expands the state's officer misconduct database and lengthens the retention of disciplinary records. It gives the state board more power to strip misbehaving officers of their certification. It forces police officers to provide more details on arrests whenever resisting arrest is one of the charges. It adds a duty to intervene when officers witness other officers violating rights. It enacts new procedures for no-knock search warrants. And it mandates body cam use across the state by 2025.

The governor has stated he will sign the bill. This is good news for Illinois residents. And it should be good news for cops… at least the good ones. This doesn't change anything good cops already do. It only makes things worse for bad cops, despite the FOP's hysterical claims about it being the end of law enforcement. It should be a new beginning -- one that can be used to rebuild failing agencies and help them rid themselves of their worst components.

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Filed Under: 1033 program, cash bail, elgie sims, illinois, law enforcement, police militarization, police reform, police unions, qualified immunity

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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 3:37pm

    Clean up your act or someone will do it for you

    At this point my default assumption is that if a US police union hates something odds are good it's because it's good for the public, so I can think of no higher praise for a bill than the fact that the local union hated it.

    While it's unfortunate that the worse offender, qualified immunity, didn't get killed off(the sooner the better for that legal abomination) it sounds like some long overdue reforms still managed to make it through the finished bill, hopefully resulting in some improvements both locally and ideally further out as other states follow suit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 5:56pm

    QI needs to go the way of the dodo, the dinosaurs, and the Confederacy. But while we wait for that to happen, any positive reform (i.e., any reform that pisses off police unions) is better than what was in place before said reform. Good on Illinois lawmakers for not letting the cops get everything they wanted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    TheForumTroll (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 6:55pm

    Re: Clean up your act or someone will do it for you

    I'm amazed the police union is even called a union. It has more to do with the union that happens at/after a wedding than an actual Union.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 9:21pm


    So the 764-page amendment is the part that implements all these reforms, or is it the part no-one has read yet?

    My experience here on TechDirt regarding last-minute amendments no-one has read does not lead me to feel optimistic. Not only do such riders neutralize the bill in question, but also tend to add stuff to make the situation worse.

    Are we to expect the police will get a tank and one hundred attack dogs with which to patrol poor neighborhoods?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    TKnarr (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 9:29pm

    Substantially increases both initial and ongoing education requirements with no money to pay for the increased costs and no assurances that the courses will even be offered

    Like no other profession has ongoing continuing-education requirements where members of that profession are expected to pay for their own education. Ha ha bloody hah!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2021 @ 9:51pm

    possible felony murder rule process:
    1) a drunk person is pissing at the base of an utility pole and they are noticed by a cop...

    2) two years later that utility pole collapses and kills someone...

    3) the drunk person gets arrested for felony murder because pissing on the pole accelerated the natural corrosion process.

    from what i see there are no time limits defined to tie in the cause and the effect, felony murder can be construed with practically everything, it can be made up by a prosecutor like a butterfly effect

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Jan 2021 @ 10:26pm

    felony murder = anything made-up by a prosecutor

    This sounds conspicuously about how a crime crosses state lines if the internet-part involved a server somewhere out of state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    PatrickH, 19 Jan 2021 @ 10:50pm

    As an Illinois resident color me impressed, our state legislature actually passed something good. Now if only they'd show the same discipline elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Mike, 20 Jan 2021 @ 4:06am

    Felony murder is still very useful

    Felony murder is a hell of a thing, allowing people to be charged with murder if some act they committed resulted in the death of a person -- even if they never directly interacted with that person.

    Even in your drug case, that depends. Like what do you do if someone sends tainted drugs and had foreknowledge they might be bad? Or sends fentanyl instead of cocaine because they hate them? The fact is that there are A LOT of felony cases where the felony murder charge would be completely justified morally, if not legally.

    Drug users deserve justice when a dealer screws them over and it kills them. Sometimes that justice comes in the form of execution or life imprisonment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Norahc (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 4:29am

    Re: Re: Clean up your act or someone will do it for you

    I'm amazed the police union is even called a union

    To be fair, the term gang was already in use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Teamchaos (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 5:07am

    With the added benefit of increasing police officer retirements

    If adopted this will no doubt increase the trend of police officers leaving the force. Which to some, I assume, is a feature not a bug. nneapolis-john-catanzara-fop-michael-lappe

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 10:20am

    Stop, please, come back...

    Oh the crocodile tears in that article. 'People are saying mean things about us and it's taking the fun out of the job to the point that a lot of us are just quitting. Just because american police have spent decades treating the public's rights and lives like trash is no excuse for them to protests against us or call for our budgets to be shifted to programs that actually put the public first.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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