By Craig Hastings
I don’t have a Facebook account but my phone has been blowing up with screenshots taken from many other people’s accounts. So what’s the big news this week that’s caused such a stir? HB 3653: Police, Criminal Justice Reforms Bill. In the wee hours of the morning the Illinois Senate passed a slightly modified version of the original bill at 5:00 a.m by nine votes and a few hours later it passed by ten votes in The House. Senator Chapin Rose, our 51st District republican representative delivered a scathing rebuke of the action on same day talk radio. Senator Rose expressed his disgust over how little time Senators were given to read and review the 764 page document. Senator Rose stated they had been given just 58 minutes to read the entire bill before debate and voting began. The bill had been authored by the Illinois Black Caucus months ago after riots, looting, and protests decimated parts of several large cities across America including Chicago. Leftists organizations across the country pushed local and federal politicians to defund police, restrict and change the way police do business, and in the most severe cases; do away with police departments completely. So for whatever reason, a few Illinois legislators took the movement upon themselves to draft 764 pages of sweeping criminal justice reform in Illinois.
Of all states, Illinois, a state that can’t seem to manage any of it’s own business without causing more damage to itself decided to be one of America’s first to rewrite the way law enforcement is conducted. Not just in Cook County where I think the problem lies, but across the entire state. Instead of addressing the problem where it occurs, a few Legislators decided every police department in the state must also be getting it wrong so they designed one shoe to fit every foot in the state! There was one saving grace that occurred just before voting. Something called “qualified Immunity” as it pertains to Illinois police officers was pulled from consideration. So what is qualified immunity and how does it apply to police in Illinois? Qualified immunity grants police, governmental officials, from civil lawsuits unless the plaintiff can show the police officer, governmental official, clearly or even intentionally violated a person’s civil rights in the course of the performance of their duties. So who decides what is clearly a civil rights violation? The courts try to apply the thinking of what a reasonable person would have, should have, known as it pertains to the facts of each instance. I believe some of this thinking was based on many years ago debates that police officers are required to sometimes make split second decisions that are sometimes life or death decisions. And because police officers are human and all humans make mistakes, it would not be fair to “armchair quarterback” the actions of police that make honest, in the heat of the moment, unintentional mistakes or poor decisions. Again, this qualified immunity does NOT exclude police officers from being sued in the civil courts when an officer has clearly performed badly and or recklessly in the course of his or her duties.
So what’s the rub here? Seems pretty clear to most thinking this system should work, right? Well, I don’t know. It does work so why would a handful of legislators decide they should make every police officer in the state fair game and open to a lawsuit each and every time they encounter a criminal suspect? I think, again this is only my thinking, some or all of any legislators voting to remove qualified immunity protection from police believe that if all police officers are in fear of their financial ruin from lawsuits, these police officers would be less likely to do the job they were employed to do. That job being to arrest suspects of all crimes regardless of the severity of the crimes. Well Craig, why would you come to such a conclusion? Because it’s the absolute truth, that’s why!!! Why would any police officer stick their financial livelihood out there for the taking by arresting people for simple and lesser penalty crimes? So in order to control police officers in Cook County and larger cities across the state from making arrests for minor crimes and lesser warrant arrests, how about getting rid of qualified immunity? I think getting rid of qualified immunity would certainly accomplish this.
Fortunately for now wiser minds ruled the day and qualified immunity stays. However it is tentatively scheduled to be revisited sometime this summer. I think these legislators did accomplish their same objective just through a different avenue. If you haven’t already, read the bill and pay close attention to the cash bail abolishment schedule. These same simple and more mundane criminal offences that some had hoped to stop through eliminating qualified immunity will be solved through an end around by eliminating cash bail for these same offences. A “catch and release” program right here in Illinois. For instance, it could be I might arrest your neighbor for intentionally breaking a window out of your garage. In an hour after booking and such this criminal is released because there is no bail required for this crime. This same criminal goes back to your garage and breaks another window. I come to your home, arrest him/her again and we do this over and over. It just could happen if the final language of this bill isn’t drafted carefully and thoughtfully.
So, the many of you sending me screenshots, text messages, calling the office etc., asking me when I’m retiring because you thought the qualified immunity was taken away from police; I still enjoy protecting and serving you so I’ll be sticking around for a while. I am unless when lawmakers revisit this they change their minds and remove the protection. You see, for any police officer with say twenty or more years vested in a retirement pension it would be too risky to stay working. With the everyday threat of being sued for every little thing you do while on the job it would be dangerous to stay. We all rely on our pensions to survive the madness we’ve lived during our careers. To have these taken away would leave most of us homeless. The light at the end of the tunnel is some financial security from a little bit of a pension we may earn, in my case, for forty-one years of service to the profession. To have that all taken away for one unintentional mistake on the job would definitely cause me to retire now. And I’m not alone! Thousands of police officers in this state, and most of those being some of the best police officers serving, would all have to retire now to be safe. With this mass exodus of police officers this state will become dangerously unsafe to live in. And what young man or woman would ever choose law enforcement as a profession in Illinois?! I would hope not many under the circumstances of no qualified immunity protection.
So good job Springfield, Illinois. The state is already set to lose Congressional seats due to a drastic population drop due to poor leadership at the top! And now some of you decide it would be in the best interest of the state to drive even more of the population out over public safety concerns due to poor policing across the state! Bravo! Here’s an idea! Why don’t you address the policing problems where they occur!? Leave downstate Illinoisans out of your mayhem happening in Cook County. We’re doing just fine down here without your reckless and unwarranted revamping of how you believe police officers should perform in the field. Once again, a handful of people that have never done the job and know next to nothing about the job are the ones deciding how the job should be done! Perfect!
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)