In Illinois, state’s attorneys are the elected county prosecutors. They represent the people of their respective counties in court. When 100 out of 102 elected state’s attorneys have a warning, then the people are wise to listen. The coming full implementation of the SAFE-T Act in January 2023 will make Illinois far less safe. On 5 August 2022, AM560’s Dan Proft and Amy Jacobson, from Chicago’s Morning Answer, interviewed two county prosecutors from the Chicago area. One Republican, Robert Berlin, from DuPage, County. One Democrat, James Glasgow, from Will County. They are agreed. Public safety will be jeopardized. Law-abiding citizens will be confronted by emboldened criminals, and the police and prosecutors will be far less able to do much about it. The full interview is a highly-recommended resource.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Warnings About the Rushed Legislation
In politics, there is a long history of naming proposed legislation using catchy (even if misleading) names. Such is the case with the SAFE-T Act, which stands for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today. Our founder, wrote on the passage and consequences of the SAFE-T Act in his article “The Importance of “Us:” The Failure of Being Cast as Them.” The article was published in the February 2021 issue of the National FOP Journal.
In that article, Thomas Lemmer noted that the purported criminal justice reform package was then known as Senate Amendment 2 to House Bill 3653. The bill was passed on 13 January 2021, during the final hours (minutes actually) of the Illinois General Assembly “lame duck” session. While the most touted provision of the legislation was the elimination of cash bail, there were many other consequential elements dealing with new limits on arrest authority, restrictions on the use of force, and the use of technology like body-worn cameras, among others.
The bill was rushed, and ignored months of discussions to address reform concerns while not crippling the Illinois justice system. Those discussions involved several state’s attorneys, law enforcement officials, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, a reform advocate and Democrat. Nearly none (or more likely none) of the members of the Illinois General Assembly read the 764-page bill before a majority voted to pass it at the very end of the legislative term.
The vote ignored a plea from the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association (ISAA) to correct obvious deficiencies in the bill. In its statement released on 8 January 2021, the association first expressed its support in tackling the difficult issues of concern regarding the justice. However, the ISAA then went on to note that many provisions of the legislation will “profoundly undermine public safety and overturn long-standing common-sense policies and practices in the criminal justice system.”
The ISAA also noted how the “bail reform” previously passed by the General Assembly in 2017 has not proceeded without negative consequences. On this point the statement read: “Since the Bail Reform Act of 2017 became law, we have seen a substantial increase in defendants deciding to ignore the courts and simply not appear in court as ordered, thus avoiding responsibility.”
The Illinois Law Enforcement Coalition, which included the Illinois State and Chicago FOP Lodges in a joint statement declared: “In the dark of the night Illinois legislators made Illinois less safe.” They noted that the coalition had been “working in good faith with the Attorney General on a bill that would make great strides to modernize law enforcement, but that legislation was dumped into this monster bill and the result is a betrayal of the public trust that gives many more advantages to criminals than the police.”
A Poorly Drafted Bill Becomes Law
Once the bill passed, even the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board, advised Governor J.B. Pritzker not sign the bill into law. The Tribune urged the governor and Illinois General Assembly to take more time to approach issues of bail reform more thoughtfully. In its 15 January 2021 editorial, the Tribune advised: “… the purposeful, rapid approval by a lame duck legislature has come under such scrutiny from police. The sweeping changes should not have been passed, and they should not be signed by Pritzker, without more transparent, open debate about the bill’s contents.”
Governor Pritzker ignored the caution and signed the bill into law in February 2021. Since that time, prosecutors and police have continued to try to work with the General Assembly in correcting the most damaging aspects of the law.
The Recommended Interview
Embedded below is the full interview with DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, from Will County. During the 20-minute segment, these veteran prosecutors make clear that public safety will be weakened in Illinois in the months ahead.
We take note that Cook County’s non-prosecuting prosecutor Kim Foxx, is one of the two Illinois State’s Attorneys not in agreement on the dangers ahead. Given her failed record on public safety, we are standing with the advice from the 100 other prosecutors.
The New York Example
Beginning in the Giuliani days, the New York Police Department (NYPD), and New York City (NYC) as a whole, made remarkable progress in addressing crime and violence. NYC went from being a nearly unlivable place awash in lawlessness and violence, to the safest big city in America. Without question, an effective police department and functioning criminal justice system worked in tandem with a wide array of other services. Yet policing and offender accountability were the center-core that made public safety in New York a reality. It was a positive (while imperfect) example of what is possible.
Now, New York is once again an example of which we here in Illinois should take note. New York is providing a preview of coming attractions here in Illinois. NYC is again experiencing rising crime, open lawlessness, and increases in murders. Many have pointed directly at the 2019 passage of “bail reform” by the New York state legislature as a prime contributing factor. As in Illinois, New York rushed their “reforms” through with little review; in their case having tacked it onto passage of the state’s budget.
As reported by the New York Post, recently retired NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller compared the New York legislation to dropping an “atom bomb” on the state’s criminal justice system. Relative to the negative impact on public safety, crime reduction efforts in NYC are described as having been “set back a decade.” Miller went on to conclude:
“District attorneys don’t like it. Judges don’t like it. Police officers don’t like it. And citizens don’t like it. So that leaves one universe — the advocates — who think it’s terrific. They are advocates for people who commit crimes, who get caught in the system,” he said. “And where are the advocates for everybody else?”
A View from New York’s Mayor:
Of the consequences with New York’s new catch and release approach to public safety, the city’s mayor is also sounding the alarm. Last week, Mayor Eric Adams opened a press conference with the following remarks:
“They say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly but expect different results. Our criminal justice system is insane. It is dangerous. It is harmful. And its destroying the fabric of our city. Time and time our police officers make an arrest, and then the person – who is arrested for assault, felonious assault, robberies and gun possessions – their finding themselves back on the streets within days, if not hours after arrest. And they go on to commit more crimes within weeks, if not days.”
It bears noting, that the Illinois SAFE-T Act goes further in eliminating pretrial detention than what New York passed into law.
A Continuing Discussion of Concern
The Morning Answer radio show has continued to cover the growing public safety crisis here in Illinois. That crisis will be further exacerbated with the full implementation of the SAFE-T Act. Here we provide their recent interview with former Chicago Police Department (CPD) Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy. The perspective in interesting. While former Chief Roy is slow to criticize CPD Superintendent David Brown, his observations on the larger policing challenges in Chicago are on point. The quote most compelling from the former chief: “A community that does not protect itself is bound to fall.”
Bad Public Policy Has Consequences
Without question, America continues to be in the midst of a significant public safety crisis. That crisis is more evident in places like Chicago and Cook County than elsewhere in Illinois. However, we concur with the warnings from the State’s Attorneys Berlin and Glasgow. When the SAFE-T Act goes into full effect in January 2023, the rest of Illinois will begin to experience far more lawlessness. As we continue to caution, lawless places are inevitably violent ones.
We are interested in your thoughts, and invite you to comment below.