By Craig Hastings
And so it has begun. Upstate Illinois, specifically Cook County and surrounding communities, struggle to find a balance between fair and just enforcement of criminal law by the 99 percent of police officers that are fair and just, and the enforcement of criminal law by the other 1 percent of police officers that may not be fair and just. Because of this all police officers in Illinois will be strangled with the infamous Illinois Police Reform Bill passed last January. House Democrats, specifically the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, drafted this legislation and pushed it through in a Lame Duck session at 4:30 a.m. after just less than one hour of debate on the floor. The bill contained 764 pages of new legislation in which most legislators were given less than one hour to read, understand, and debate before it was called for a vote. The bill received the exact minimum number of votes (60) required to pass the House. I doubt very much if the bill was called to a second vote today that it would receive the 60 votes needed.
I understand most citizens in Illinois will not care to delve into the bill and really try to understand what this means not only to police officers but also for each and every citizen’s safety and protection. But ask yourself this; why is Illinois the only state in the union that has passed blanket legislation of this kind that applies to all of Illinois? New York comes to mind you think? The city of New York has shadow language in new legislation that applies to the New York Police Department but not to the entire law enforcement community in the state. However, it will still be easier for a police officer in New York City to carry out their duties than it will be for even those police officers in Tuscola, Illinois. Illinois Republican legislators have been scrambling all winter and spring to clean up some of the most damning language that includes police officers’ abilities to use any means of force to make even simple arrests. They are doing this by drafting something called trailing legislation. This could include anything from simple amendments applied to part of a bill or complete change of another part of a bill. As of the writing of this story most feel the spring session of Congress will end before debate and a vote could take place.
So now what? Now you are witnessing a mass exodus of some of the best well seasoned police officers across this state leaving the profession either by retirement, lateral transferring to departments hiring outside of this state, or changing professions altogether. Why? Because a handful of upstate legislators feel a need to punish the entire Illinois law enforcement community because maybe there are a few one percenters wearing badges that may not be playing by the rules. I haven’t heard of any new legislation to reinvent how teachers teach because there is a small percentage of bad teachers. I can’t find any push by any legislators to reinvent how doctors practice health care because there might be a small percentage of doctors out there not as skilled as their majority colleagues. Currently police officers can not individually purchase liability insurance in this state. This is something I would look into and weigh the cost of coverage to see if it would make sense to stay in the profession. I think today and through June 30, 2021 most all of us in the profession will be in panic mode. To stay or not to stay.
Most if not all of my colleagues I work with here in Douglas County are good and honest police officers. If sued because of an accusation of misconduct I would be confident at the end of the day (years) most would be found innocent of whatever they were accused of. The only reason I can imagine right now that might get one of us in a position to be sued would be because none of us have a clear understanding of where the boundaries are! Do you know that none of us, including our own Illinois State Police Training Board have no idea at all how we are to conduct ourselves on July 1st, 2021?! How on earth are any of us supposed to enforce the laws of the state if we don’t know what they are? Don’t tell me to just read the 764 pages either because the specifics and breakdown of when we can and can’t and for what is not in the bill! Imagine someone giving you a disassembled machine that includes 764 pieces that must all be assembled properly to operate and they were given to you with no instructions or even a picture of the finished product! This is what we feel like has been done to us. Someone has just 30 days to show us the way. And right now at this moment I don’t think Democrats in Springfield including Governor Pritzker care one damn bit. Let the lawsuits targeting police begin!
The reality of this legislation has hit home this week yet again and hit hard. Most of you may know that our own Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has been advertising for months in an attempt to fill positions in all four branches of the office. Response has been light and those that have, most have no experience and need mandatory training. Well guess what? Any and all classes for the mandatory training are either full or don’t even exist due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Tuscola we also have been trying to operate on a shortage of personnel. We have what I believe to be a promising candidate for a police officer position but all academies are full with no alternative solution to fix overcrowded academy dilemmas.
I know that Douglas County is currently short on deputy positions already before this week’s announcement by Sheriff Blackwell that he will step down as Sheriff on June 30. I also learned late last week that the Douglas County Chief Deputy will also be leaving the department on or before June 30. Not that this hasn’t been and still is currently happening all over Illinois but, it has now hit close to home. Citizens of rural Douglas County will indeed be less safe in their homes if the deputy roster doesn’t fill up. Tuscola has been struggling on and off for four years trying to fill shifts due to being down one officer most of the time and at times of an injury or vacations it’s nearly impossible to provide the coverage we feel the citizens deserve. I’m concerned with the situation at the Sheriff’s Office. We depend on their deputies to back us up after 11:00 p.m. as they do Tuscola officers in return. What happens now? If the citizens knew what we know as the police officers working in Douglas County what is going on and what we are now dealing with, you too would share my deep concern that it may take too long to respond to where we need to be. I’ve been a police officer in Douglas County, all with Tuscola, for 41 years and I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. Never has there been a shortage of good police officers willing to step up and do this job like there is today.
With this new legislation it will get worse. So what do I do? Do I stay or do I go. Do I let Governor Pritzker and his band of police reform artists force me out of a profession I love and feel I can still contribute much? Do I let the citizens of Tuscola down that have supported me over the years and encourage me to stay? Tuscola right now for me is the greatest place on earth to live. Should I stay and try to keep it this way or I look out for my two boys and myself instead? Will there even be any police officers left in Tuscola for me to lead? Criminals and crime waves in Champaign/Urbana have forced me and many others from visiting those cities. Savoy is our new Champaign but even in Savoy, not after dark. If those city administrations don’t stop practicing political correctness and unleash their law enforcement agencies to do the job they were sworn to do, will Champaign/Urbana become a little Chicago? I encourage all of you to travel south to Mattoon for now to visit the box stores that lure you to Champaign/Urbana. Better yet, buy anything you can right here in Tuscola and support those that provide the revenue that funds public services here.
I’ve carried on much longer than I intended. I hope you didn’t tune out and move on. I could double the space I used tonight if I was able. All of you need to reach out to your respective elected officials and speak your piece.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)