DECATUR — Monday, Feb. 22, is a day destined to live as a headache in the collective memory of those working in law enforcement.
Police leaders in and around Decatur had spoken out previously to condemn the sweeping criminal justice reform bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday afternoon. Law enforcement’s views haven’t mellowed any in the meantime.
“If they (lawmakers) were interested in true police reform, they would sit at the table with law enforcement and come to solutions that are the best for the community,” said Decatur Police Chief, Jim Getz.
“Instead, they ignored us. Now we have a law that is going to entice criminals to commit crime because there are really no consequences.”
Among aspects of the new law Getz has major problems are the eventual elimination of cash bail and major tweaks to complaints procedures that make it easier, he says, to decertify and remove officers even when the complainants are anonymous.
Macon County Sheriff Tony Brown said police are professional and will “adjust” to comply with the new law’s provisions. But, like Getz, he is worried about what effect the law will have on persuading new recruits to consider policing as a career.
“It’s going to make a difficult job even more difficult,” he said. “It just seems you have so many forces ranged against a profession that I believe is still very noble.”
Macon County State’s Attorney Scott Rueter said undermining law enforcement at a time when cities like Decatur are dealing with dangerous upsurges in gun violence is poor timing, to say the least. And he shares concerns that the Democratic majority in Springfield seemed uninterested in consulting with professionals working in the legal system before pushing ahead with their legislative agenda.
“I think they didn’t want to hear from voices they knew would be speaking in opposition to their plans,” added Rueter.
Jeanelle Norman, president of the Decatur branch of the NAACP, struck a more neutral tone, pointing out that history showed Black people had suffered unfairly at the hands of the current bail system, for example.
“Bail reform was needed,” she added. “But is this law the right way to do it?”
Norman said now that the law has been signed, the sensible approach would be to monitor how all aspects of it work out in practice. And she said lawmakers must be willing to step back in and make repairs if it becomes obvious that parts of the legislation are not working or not keeping people safe.