Task force hears from law enforcement on rising crime rate

By Peter Hancock 
Capitol News Illinois

Pictured from left) Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis, Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow and Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey were among the law enforcement officials who testified Jan. 21 before the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force. (Blueroomstream.com)

SPRINGFIELD – Police chiefs and sheriffs told a panel of state lawmakers Friday, Jan. 21 that they need more resources and support from the public and the General Assembly to combat a rising rate of violent crime in Illinois. Some said they don’t feel they are getting that now, especially in light of recently-enacted criminal justice reforms.

“There are members in policing that believe that the community should have nothing to say about what we do in our profession,” Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis said. “Conversely, there are members in the community that want nothing to do with police officers of any kind. All sides are entitled to feel the way that they feel. But until we are able to work together in spite of our differences, we will never fully reach our potential in equitably addressing the concerns of public safety and violence in all communities.”

Davis spoke during a hearing of the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force, a group that House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, formed in September “to develop a collaborative approach to the violence crisis.”

Welch formed the task force as Chicago and many other cities were experiencing their most violent year in decades. Chicago alone had some 800 murders during the year, the most in the past quarter century.

The panel is co-chaired by Reps. LaShawn K. Ford and Frances Ann Hurley, both Chicago Democrats.

The increase in violent crime has come just after the General Assembly enacted a sweeping criminal justice reform package known as the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T Act that included, among other things, the scheduled elimination of cash bail in Illinois beginning next year.

When that law takes effect Jan. 1, 2023, courts will still be able to detain people they believe pose a risk to public safety, but those who are not detained will be released on conditions other than posting bond.

Ford was the chief House sponsor of that bill, which passed during a lame duck session in January 2021. It was an initiative of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and it came about, in part, in response to a large number of police shootings of unarmed Black people, including the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the disproportionately large number of Blacks and Hispanics being held in jail awaiting trial because they could not afford the price of bail.

But it has come to be seen in some circles as part of a larger anti-law enforcement movement, and Republicans in the General Assembly have called for its repeal.

Lemont Police Chief Marc Maton said public criticism of policing in general has led to officers being less willing to take aggressive actions to stop crime.

“Our cops aren’t laying down,” he said. “They see the media, proposed legislation and community commentary, and they think that this is the role that’s expected of them, and that the community wants a less aggressive approach to policing and is asking for this model of policing.”

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said his department has been losing officers who get trained in Illinois but later move to work in other states that they perceive to be more supportive of law enforcement.

“I’ve lost three officers to the state of Indiana in the last year, who are going to a state that they think is more supportive,” he said. “I recently had an officer who’s talking about … accepting a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the same reason, because they believe that the state is more police friendly, more supportive of law enforcement.”

Meanwhile, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said he believes the elimination of cash bail next year will only worsen the problem of violent crime.

“Cashless bail has already proven in other states to not work and has increased violent crimes in those states to record numbers and made those states more violent and less safe, which is what we’re trying to avoid,” he said. “Cashless bail will also increase interaction with police, something that I think the community wants to avoid.”

But Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, said she believes people have misinterpreted what the elimination of cash bail is really about.

“We are removing money as the factor of if we’re going to detain somebody or not,” she said. “And with our current system – and this happens, unfortunately – people can buy their way out of jail pretrial, because somebody is making a decision that, you know, it’ll cost them whatever $30,000 to get out.”

Ford tried to dispel the idea that the SAFE-T Act was meant to be an anti-law enforcement measure or that he, personally, was anti-law enforcement.

“Let me just say that I want to thank law enforcement for the things that you do every day to make our streets safer and to work with the communities,” he said. “I know that it is law enforcement that runs into the line of fire. If I’m in trouble, I’m calling the police. And we want to do everything to make sure that the police are strong, and make sure that the police are well educated as it relates to serving the people.”