This editorial was published in the Feb. 22 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday a bill that will eliminate cash bail in Illinois, allow for anonymous complaints against police officers in disciplinary hearings and overhaul law enforcement protocols to be more hands off when apprehending suspects.
Some of the material in the 700-page bill passed last month is laudable and worth exploring, as we’ve said previously. But it’s undeniable that nearly every law enforcement agency and prosecutorial association in the state is ringing alarm bells about the changes, which were shoved through the legislature with little debate in the middle of the night — by design.
Working groups, meetings and hearings between handfuls of legislators and stakeholders on the concepts of the bill during COVID-19 lockdowns last summer and fall — meetings that defenders claimed covered the bases for public input and education — do not suffice. Other states that eliminated cash bail took time to engage the public and bring law enforcement on board. Not here. It’s no wonder the rank-and-file law enforcement community is angry. The bill was sprung into the public spotlight only weeks ago and now it’s the law.
For that rush job and to those concerned about the bill’s impact on public safety, Pritzker offered only chastisement when he signed it Monday. Opponents don’t want any change, he said, “don’t believe there is injustice in the system” and are liars and fearmongers who prefer the status quo.
It’s something many of us have learned about this governor: offer any resistance or opposition to his policies and he’ll resort to blaming, mischaracterizing and shaming, even when there are legitimate questions at hand. If you voted against his graduated tax amendment to force discipline onto Springfield, you were brainwashed by Republicans. If you disagreed with his budget priorities or executive orders during COVID-19, you’re a “carnival barker.” And if you oppose this new law, you’re fearmongering.
This bill flew through the House and Senate during a lame-duck legislative session in January. The Senate voted on the bill in the middle of the night, and House Democrats cut off questions minutes before a new General Assembly was seated. Literally, minutes.
The new law allows for the release of anyone arrested and charged with a criminal offense, including those charged with felonies, while they await the conclusion of their cases — no detention at all. If judges determine an accused defendant is a flight or public safety risk who must remain behind bars, the bill requires judges to justify their decisions with “a written finding as to why less restrictive conditions” could not be offered. And each time the detained defendant has a court date, the judge must make justifications.
House GOP leader Jim Durkin called the governor’s support of the bill “an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois who work to live free of violence and destruction from the criminal element. It’s clear that Gov. Pritzker does not understand this bill and what it means to our criminal justice system.”
The Cook County system, through Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart, among others, has been addressing inequities by reducing bail amounts for low-level offenses and avoiding jail time for nonviolent offenders. Criminal justice systems across the country have rightly emphasized that arrestees are not, and should not be considered, convicted criminals. They have due process rights.
But there’s legitimate worry about the effect of the law on public safety that cannot be brushed aside. Police officers increasingly are tasked with job expectations that are conflicting and frustrating.
Judges need more information and tools to assess risk factors of defendants now, without these new mandates.
Just a year ago after a violent weekend in Chicago that included the deaths of three children, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said: “Electronic monitoring and low bond amounts given to offenders endanger our residents and flies in the face of the hard work our police officers put in on a daily basis to take them off the streets.”
How about no bond? How will this new law affect the reality on the ground for the police and the public that Brown described? Don’t dare ask.