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Illinois law enforcement talk with lawmakers about possible solutions to address violence

Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis III talks with the House Public Safety and Violence...
Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis III talks with the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force on January 21, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 6:51 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Law enforcement leaders from across Illinois had the opportunity to talk about their ideas to address public safety and violence prevention with state lawmakers Friday.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police told a special House task force that communities are up in arms about the recent rise in violence. Although, Hazel Crest Police Chief, Mitchell Davis III, believes this was caused by systemic inequities in society, defunding of social service programs, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on communities.

Davis, the association president, says turning a blind eye to problems in one segment of society ultimately results in more challenges with violence spilling into other communities.

“Public safety and violence prevention are not a police matter,” Davis said. “They are matters for all of us to address. Being pro good policing should not be a bad thing.”

Davis said the state has to find a happy medium of equitably enforcing laws without forgetting countless victims, their families, and the trauma they endure. He also explained people can talk about making law enforcement better without condemning police. Still, Davis argues new officers need to have the ability to empathize with people while they work on solving crimes.

Many people across Illinois have seen the recent rise in gun violence and carjacking’s. Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford and her husband were victims of a carjacking at gunpoint last month.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police noted these types of crimes increased as the likelihood for detection evaporated. Lemont Police Chief Marc Maton says carjacking’s, drive-by shootings, and residential vehicle theft are all times that are mobile and it’s hard for police to identify offenders.

Maton said that many criminals see this as a low-risk, high reward opportunity to take what they want.

“Our strategy should be to use laws, tactics, and technology to defeat the anonymity of crime and move the risk-reward equation back north of center,” Maton said.

He also stressed that fear of detection and enforcement needs to be legitimate in order to establish a deterrent. The association is working on a proposal to create a new crime category for stealing vehicles. Maton says there should also be enhancements for fleeing and eluding officers or committing crimes using stolen cars.

Other chiefs suggested lawmakers should pass plans for mandatory sentencing for carjacking convictions. They also noted that additional funding from the state budget could help for investments in more license plate reader technology and cameras.

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow says the state needs to look into more ways to recruit and retain good officers. Winslow said his department’s manpower is currently down by 20%. He noted that this is a major problem for many mid-sized agencies across the state.

“We gotta bring back the nobleness of the profession,” Winslow said. “That starts with all of us talking positive about the good things that law enforcement do in our communities. Far too often, the media picks up on these sound bites, oftentimes from our elected officials, about only the negative that the police do.”

Winslow said prospective officers look at the negative stories and posts on social media. He argues that is a major factor in turning away good candidates.

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) leads the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force. Ford said he is committed to listening to law enforcement and people with productive suggestions to help save lives.

“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. I know that it’s law enforcement that runs into the line of fire,” Ford said. “If I’m in trouble, I’m calling the police.”

Ford reaffirmed that lawmakers will do everything they can to keep police strong and well-educated on the best ways to serve people. He said the rise in shooting deaths and other violence calls for everyone to put politics aside and dedicate their efforts to address violence as a public health and safety emergency.

Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch created the task force to allow members to work with stakeholders to discuss possible changes to criminal justice laws. The SAFE-T Act, championed by the Legislative Black Caucus last year, is frequently criticized by Republican lawmakers, law enforcement, and Back the Blue supporters.

While some would like to see the law repealed, Democrats hope to work with Republicans, law enforcement, criminal justice experts, and community organizations to find the best solutions to add to the SAFE-T Act.

Ford noted the law isn’t perfect. Yet, he says the state couldn’t go anywhere if lawmakers didn’t take decisive action last year. Now, he argues it’s up to those who come to the table to negotiate amendments to create a safer and less divisive Illinois.

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