By Craig Hastings
Three more police officers and a police K9 dog were shot and killed in Kentucky today. Another police officer was shot in Chicago a day earlier. Both incidents were related to domestic violence calls. Police are literally being ambushed at these scenes because the suspects know police are on their way. Chicago reported twelve people shot and killed in a two day wave of violence. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has nothing to say but blame the guns. Has she offered any more support for her police officers risking their lives everyday in a city that has become a war zone as soon as the sun sets each night? No. Chicago, like every police department across the country, struggles to recruit anyone who will even take the job of police officer. Just last Wednesday I listened to an interview on the radio with the newest Police Chief just hired in Champaign. The Chief stated that Champaign is still down eighteen police officers. They have recently modified their hiring strategy to fast track the process from recruitment to getting officers on the street and on patrol. Citizens are outraged at the violence taking place just twenty-four miles to our north. A majority of police officers in these larger cities are trying to find a path to their earliest out even if it means finding a career doing something else. Unfortunately for smaller departments like those here in Douglas County, these larger departments are actively pursuing our certified officers. We can’t compete. So what’s the answer? I haven’t a clue. Of course the lure of much higher wages, benefits, and earlier retirement are tempting. The first response I hear from everyone who wants to discuss this with me is; “Yeah but who would want to work in Champaign as a police officer?” The answer is any and every up and coming police officer. Why not? Better pay, early retirement, four day work weeks, why wouldn’t a young officer rather work in Champaign than some small municipality? “Well because the violence in Champaign is so much worse.” Two responses to that statement. One, when you’re young and new coming into this career most of us were eager for the excitement of dangerous and challenging calls for service. Secondly, remember that in Champaign for instance, when you respond to these calls there will always be several other officers responding too. Unlike here, we may not have anyone else responding and those officers that are on their way may be responding from a long distance. The later in the night it is, the less chance an officer in Douglas County will have of anyone close that will be responding to back them up.
So yes the high risk call volume is higher but at least when you respond your chances of having plenty of help are really good. So what’s the fix? Right now there isn’t one. Even with many departments raising the pay of their officers substantially, this isn’t enough enticement to lure new people into this career. Many of you might remember what J.B. Pritzker and the Cook County Democrats did last summer to decimate the law enforcement community all in the name of some crazy right wing movement they call “police reform”. This nearly eight hundred page document did nothing more than put police officers’ own handcuffs on their ability to enforce the laws of this state. Use of force issues are so stringent now it has caused all of us to think twice about making arrests of anyone for fear of being sued or having our lives ruined by the news media. Charge by report only is the safest way to navigate through the blockade of these new “police reform” laws. This means few go to jail at the time of their offenses and are free to continue to do whatever they had just been guilty of doing.
Some of the larger cities, most notably Chicago, won’t pursue anyone either on foot or in a vehicle pursuit unless the crime just committed is a suspected felony. The Illinois State Police stopped vehicle pursuits years ago. Just last week our department was notified by the Illinois State Police dispatch that a suspect vehicle had just fled from a State Trooper on I-57 and was traveling south at a high rate of speed. Well, why bother to tell me about it! If you’re not going to pursue someone fleeing from one of your own, why in the world would we start that chase here in Tuscola? I don’t understand. “Well the suspect vehicle might exit in Tuscola for food or fuel.” So? What are we supposed to do with them if it does? Approach the occupants so they can then run from us or worse? Nope. This is craziness. I don’t believe there is a single police agency in Champaign County that will pursue any suspects unless the crime is a forcible felony that meets the criteria of their recently drafted pursuit policies.
I get it. I’m old and I’ve been doing this for a long, long time but a crime is a crime and those victims expect the police to apprehend suspects of crimes committed against them. Not in Illinois. Take away implied immunity for police officers with nothing to replace it with that protects the financial future of police officers in this state and there will never be enough police working the street to protect the citizens of this state. What has to happen across the country is for police officers to be able to enforce the law without outside interference from special interest groups that are controlling the re-election campaign donations of politicians. We can’t be in fear of being sued for the least little accidental misstep we might have happen in the split second decisions we have to make in the field. Some of these missteps might even land us in jail ourselves under this newest Democrat police reform legislation. Legislation that almost no one had a chance to read before it was voted on at 3:00 a.m. Let us chase and apprehend the guilty whether on foot, vehicle, boat, bike, etc. Let us catch these criminals when they commit the crimes and these crimes will happen less frequently. The legislation last summer greatly reduces the incidents where police can use tasers, pepperball guns, and pepper spray to apprehend suspects. This is the most outrageous stupidity of someone’s thought process I’ve ever read. So you don’t want us to use tasers and pepper spray devices? Did any of these legislators that know nothing about law enforcement think what that forces us to do? What it does is force us to go hands on with anyone that resists, fights, or runs from us! So not only does it increase the risk of seriously hurting suspects but also increases the chances of injuring police officers. I’ve been in one of these scenarios just two months ago. Instead of simply tasing the suspect like I could have a year ago, I had to fight with this guy on a concrete parking lot in the rain. Thank you J.B. Great job. Citizens of Illinois, you have to untie the one hand that your legislators have tied behind our backs.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)