Illinois officials divided over sweeping criminal justice overhaul bill

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CHICAGO — With Governor Pritzker likely to sign the sweeping criminal justice reform bill, communities across Illinois are bracing for the fallout.

The 764-page measure, passed in the waning hours of last month’s lame-duck session, has taken some weeks to digest fully. Many are only now understanding what’s in the bill.

Ed Wojcicki, who heads up the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, says there are “some problems” with the bill.

Ed Wojcicki heads the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

The reform that’s garnered the most attention is the push to end cash bail. The bill would mean almost everyone would be released from jail while awaiting trial unless a judge decides a defendant is a danger to the public or a threat to flee.

“These have been discussions that have been going on for years,” said Senator Elgie R. Sims Jr., D-Chicago.

Lake County States Attorney Eric Rinehart supports the bill, however.

Lake County States Attorney Eric Rinehart supports the criminal justice reform bill.

“Nobody should be held in jail awaiting trial simply because they’re poor,” he said. “This bill makes everyone safer because it makes judges focus on whether someone is a threat to the community.”

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police would like to see Governor Pritzker veto the bill.

“We have a great concern that dangerous people will be running around very quickly after they are arrested,” he said.

The cash bail abolition would take effect in two years.

The cash bail abolition would take effect in two years.

Next, the bill requires police officers to be licensed by the state, allows for anonymous complaints against officers and mandates body cameras. Officers would be held responsible for turning body-cams on. The bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, the protection for officers against certain lawsuits.

Police chiefs are worried about the financial burden, potential punishment for officers and use of video.

“It creates a new class of felony for an officer who violates state law or policy for use of body camera,” Wojcicki said. “There’s a provision in there that says an officer cannot review his video – his or her video – before writing a report. That makes no sense.”

The reforms also provide more rights for people accused of crimes and victims.

People in police custody will be allowed to make three phone calls, while barriers are removed to help more people access the state’s victims compensation program.

The legislature still has not sent the bill to Governor Pritzker. Lawmakers say they’ll get it over to him soon so he can take action within 60 days.

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