Lawmakers propose DCFS workers are allowed mace, pepper spray for self defense
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Pepper spray is legal for the average citizen to carry, but the Department of Child and Family Services investigators aren’t permitted to have it on them when investigating homes.
DCFS said investigators have a panic alert app on their DCFS-provided phones, but legislation in both chambers of the Statehouse aims to authorize DCFS investigators to carry pepper spray or mace on them. It would also require them to receive training from the Illinois State Police on how to best use the pepper spray. Advocates said it could give investigators the extra seconds they need to get out of a dangerous situation.
“This bill is a swift and immediate first step to what must be an ongoing process to improve on-the-job safety for DCFS frontline staff,” DCFS worker retiree Gayle Hopper said.
The legislation comes in reaction to the recent death of DCFS caseworker Diedre Silas, who was killed while investigating a home about 20 miles outside of Springfield. In 2017, another caseworker Pam Knight was beaten to death while also investigating.
In a hearing responding to those murders, DCFS director Marc Smith said that in known unsafe situations, local law enforcement will accompany workers to the home. Additionally, sometimes workers are partnered up to go together, but neither worker has many self-defense tools available.
Other legislation has been proposed to have a security team accompany workers to dangerous situations.
Retired DCFS administrator Deanna Large said the only tools she often had available are verbal de-escalation techniques. She said that newer recruits might not have the skills available to successfully calm down a situation.
“We need de-escalation training, self defense training like the ISP can provide so that you can break a hold,” Large said. “When you talk about ‘how would mace save Diedre,’ maybe it wouldn’t have... but if you have someone coming at you with a knife and you can spray mace, it’s going to take them away for a moment. they’re not going to se you and you can escape.”
“I have multiple colleagues over the years that come back bruised and batter because you walk in with a pen and a clipboard,” she continued.
This legislation is only “one tool” that caseworkers can utilize, Large said. She and Hopper advocate for more self-defense training and protective measures for workers. Training that helps workers break holds or avoid attacks can prevent further injuries.
Large also advocated for extending the legislation to other works that enter homes, not just DCFS investigators.
Bill sponsor Sen. Steve McClure said the bill has gathered bipartisan support. Senate Majority Whip Julie Morrison will be added as a co-sponsor soon, he said. He said the bill also has ACFSME support, which is the union representing caseworkers. McClure said he is “working” with DCFS, but expressed disappointment that the department has not been present at committee meetings discussing their legislation.
Several legislative measures have been introduced recently following scandal with the department. Earlier in the year Smith was held in contempt of court for three separate cases involving keeping children in hospitals longer than medically necessary.
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