Moderate Illinois Democrats introduce bills supporting law enforcement

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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) — Many Illinois lawmakers believe more should be done to support law enforcement. While Republicans have introduced several bills over the past year to do just that, moderate Democrats in both houses laid out their own plans on Monday.

A proposal filed Monday could provide grants for behavioral health services to law enforcement. Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago) said gun violence survivors and first responders who witness violence every day have borne the brunt of the pandemic of violence in which the country finds itself.

“Law enforcement must be part of any comprehensive long-term plan to address this horrific problem of violence, and in particular the gun violence that we face right now,” LaPointe said. “We must continue to come to the table to listen to the concerns of law enforcement as we all work together to find the root causes of crime and ultimately bring our rates of violence down.”

House Bill 1321 could allow the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Council to create statewide minimum standards for mental health screenings of officers based on statutory guidelines. LaPointe said the state has neglected this for too long, but she believes officers, firefighters and other first responders will achieve a much better quality of life with mental health resources.

Separate legislation could address recruitment and retention issues for officers. Rep. Dave Vella (D-Rockford) said his plan could task community colleges with setting minimum requirements for credits that could meet current requirements for law enforcement courses and correctional internships. Another part of his plan lowers the retirement age for Illinois state police from 60 to 55 and fixes loopholes in the state police pension plan. House Bill 1568 could also analyze why police officers leave the profession or decide not to become officers, through an all-new task force.

But there’s also a major incentive included in Vella’s plan. His bill would also allow officers to keep their weapons and badges after retirement to honor their service. This provision would apply to sheriffs, investigators, probation officers and security employees who wish to purchase their badge, firearm or both.

Meanwhile, House Bill 3863 could create a law enforcement recruitment and retention fund. Under the plan, the Law Enforcement Training Standards Board would be authorized to award grants to departments in hopes of hiring and retaining officers.

Another new proposal could lead to more state investment in body cameras, particularly for storing body camera footage. Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) said his plan can also help officers flag certain videos if they feel they have evidentiary value. Wording in the bill also states that law enforcement can turn off their cameras during training or when they are only with other officers.

“Every minute of every day, police and women are working to keep us safe,” said Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon). “They catch criminals, they break their networks and ensure justice is served against those who break the law and they continue to police our communities.”

One of the bills could raise sheriffs’ pay to match 80% of state attorneys’ pay in each county. It came after 18 sheriffs decided to leave the profession in just over last year.

“The demands and expectations of law enforcement continue to rise. Unfortunately, funding to support these new demands has not always coincided with these new responsibilities,” said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association. “These proposals will certainly help us recognize the importance of the roles and provide much-needed support for them.”

Another proposal could create a new grant program to provide mental health and substance abuse services in county jails to prevent recidivism. Services would also be available for recently released individuals.

While most Democrats supported the SAFE-T Act, which included numerous police reforms, moderate Democrats said the state should always support officers.

“These ideas are next-century smart ideas about policing,” Rep. Dave Vella (says Vella) said. “We hope this will give young black people the ability to trust police officers in the future.”

One of the proposals would create an after-hours childcare subsidy program to help law enforcement, firefighters, nurses and other third-shift workers. This plan could require the Department of Social Services to provide grants to licensed child care centers to expand their programs to include overnight or sleepover child care for these employees.

House Bill 3893 could extend the current expiration date of certain eavesdropping exemptions. Bennett said the plan could allow law enforcement to use devices to record conversations during qualified investigations of drug and sex-related offenses for another four years, until Jan. 1, 2027. The same plan expands organizations that are corrupt and influenced by street gangs and racketeers. law as of June 11, 2023.

Sponsors hope the bills can move forward before the end of the spring session scheduled for Friday. It’s still too early to tell if the bills will win bipartisan support. Still, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was quick to criticize the ideas on Monday.

“Illinois Democrats have repeatedly attacked our police and justice system. Today they are trying to rewrite history,” Durkin said. “Until they wake up and repeal their pro-criminal SAFE-T law, there will be no safe communities in Illinois.”

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