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Law Enforcement Objects To Manner, Content Of Legal Reform Bill

Don Knapp
Eric Stock
McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp said he objects to the rushed manner a massive reform packages was introduced in Springfield during the lame duck session of the Legislature.

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors said they feel blindsided by a massive criminal justice reform bill introduced by the Black Democratic Caucus in the Illinois House, with police saying they are shocked and surprised at the timing and sweeping scope of the measure.

"After what had happened in Minneapolis, we were certainly very vocal as law enforcement leaders about wanting to look at change and be involved in change," said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.

Bleichner said police advocates were not an equal player in developing the package. On Friday, the bill dropped without a lot of previous discussion. McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp said a lack of debate on legislation is a good way to create unintended consequences.

"Yeah, it just doesn't pass the smell test. The State's Attorney Association was presented with a 611-page bill with a seeming desire to pass it in five or six days," said Knapp.

Police agencies said there are good parts of the bill, including provisions to increase officer training standards, qualification requirements, use-of-force rules, and how to report use of force.

But Bleichner said a provision stripping liability protections from officers will have a negative effect.

"It's going to be detrimental. It's going to cost far more money, obviously, for counties and municipalities to have law enforcement and then it's going to impact being able to hire and retain quality law enforcement officers," said Bleichner.

Knapp also said removing liability protection will force officers to carry individual insurance policies, or run the risk of bankruptcy for doing their job.

But proponents of the measure said too often bad cops have been able to escape punishment for killings because of the liability shield that public officials have in the regular course of the job.

Knapp said he also opposes a provision in the package to eliminate cash bail. He said he frames the bail issue as centralized versus decentralized decision-making.

"Whether cash is the mechanism or some other mechanism is arrived at or used, I like local judges making the determination based on facts they are presented for specific cases for specific defendants in front of them, versus the state legislature just painting with a broad brush," said Knapp.

Supporters of eliminating cash bonds said money requirements often leave lower-income people behind bars before trial and hurt their families and careers solely because they can't afford to post bail.

Knapp said in categories of crime that have in recent years changed to automatic pretrial release, the number of people ignoring court dates has risen.

"I know anecdotally it sure seems like since they went to category A and category B offenses, it seems like failures to appear have increased," said Knapp.

Knapp also said some smaller jurisdictions have changed rules to reduce the number of people held for months on end before trial on low-level offenses.

"After formation of our local Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the efforts we've made locally to reduce our local jail population, I think that has had a much greater impact," said Knapp.

Supporters of the measure said the inconsistency of bail rules and judicial practices between jurisdictions creates an unfair system.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.