Should police officers in Illinois be licensed?

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — Amid growing calls for police reform, Illinois’ top law enforcement official has been quietly working to build support for a proposal to license police officers in Illinois.

Currently, officers are certified by the state, but often don’t lose that certification due to misconduct. A licensing process aims to change that.

“What we’re trying to do is put together a credible system that can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate complaints,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said.

Raoul, formerly a State Senator, advocated for a criminal justice reform bill that called for the licensing of officers. While the reforms passed, the licensing requirement did not.

Markham Police Chief Terry White believes the proposal would likely garner more support now with calls for policing reform.

“I think we’re still working under laws that were written 20, 30 years ago. And certainly, it’s not conducive to the times we’re living in now,” White said.

Under the proposal, police officers would be licensed and could lose licensing if accused of repeated or serious misconduct. Departments can now move to fire bad cops, but strict union protections often make discipline a difficult and lengthy process.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin said he supports the proposal.

“The overwhelming number of police officers are good, honorable people who just want to do the right thing. That being said, I think in every department there’s usually at least one,” Berlin said.

Illinois maintains a database of officers who were fired or resigned while under investigation for misconduct. Terry White says the list is well-intended, but can be vastly improved.

Unlike decertification, officers on the list can still be cops and work for another department, something that could not happen under the licensing proposal.

While some law enforcement groups back the proposal, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police does not support the move.

“If you go to licensing, it basically renders our protections useless,” Chicago FOP President John Catanzara said.

Catanzara added that the process to fire cops is challenging, but said he believes the process shouldn’t be easy.

“I mean, you’re talking about people’s livelihood here. No other profession is under that type of scrutiny,” Catanzara said.

A bill to license police officers could be introduced during November’s veto session. It would need to be passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker, who indicated he supports the idea.

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