SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Recent police-caused deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City and an ongoing concern about racial sensitivity is behind a set of police reform bills sponsored by Illinois Democrats, who say measured steps are needed to address the underlying issues.
The bills, which include standards for the use of police body cameras and chokeholds as well as cultural sensitivity training, come as a response to long-standing racial disparities and differences that resurfaced last year after Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both black men, were killed by police.
“What happens in those reactionary scenarios is you rush and put something out there, as a response to an incident, instead of thoughtfully crafting legislation that will last over time,” State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said. Raoul and other members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus are sponsoring almost all of the legislation.
Illinois is one of at least a dozen states in which legislation is being filed to address body cameras, policing tactics, racial injustice and civil unrest. In neighboring Missouri, legislators have filed more than 40 bills all stemming from Brown’s death in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Arizona lawmakers introduced a bill in January that would require law enforcement officers to wear cameras.
It isn’t known how much support the measures will receive in the full Legislature. Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon who has sponsored previous law enforcement reform bills, said he can appreciate the reasons behind the bills, but hopes the sponsors understand they are not the ones who protect communities.
“We are not the ones who have to deal with people who can threaten the safety and lives of others,” Righter said.
Representatives from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police have been in discussions with legislators about the bills, according to association spokesman Laimutis Nargelenas. A few issues with the bills will need to be worked out over the coming months.
One such bill is SB21, sponsored by Raoul, which would set standards for how officers use body cameras in Illinois. The measure doesn’t require police departments to start using body cams, and, if passed, the burden of paying for the cameras would fall on the departments, he said.
“If body cams were free, we’d make sure everyone has them,” Raoul said.
The IACP supports the use of cameras but Nargelenas said questions about when the officers should turn the cameras on need to be answered.
The association’s biggest concern, Nargelenas said, rests with HB161, which would make it a fireable offense for police officers and private security to use chokeholds except when the use of deadly force is justified.
“In other words, I can go ahead and shoot the person, but I can’t utilize a chokehold,” he said, questioning what would constitute appropriate use. He noted many departments have banned certain kinds of chokeholds, Nargelenas said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Flowers said the death of Garner, a 43-year-old black man who repeated “I can’t breathe” while Staten Island police put him in a chokehold that killed him in July, played a role in her push.
“Police officers have to follow the law, just like we do,” Flowers said. State Sen. Ira Silverstein introduced a similar measure in the Senate.
Flowers, D-Chicago, also is sponsoring two bills that would require ongoing cultural sensitivity training for police and establish a task force that would examine traffic stops for determining better policies to address racial disparities. Extra training and examination of race in traffic stops will help officers work better with diverse communities, Flowers said.
Other legislation would require law enforcement agencies to create policy for investigating officer-involved deaths. It is sponsored by state Reps. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago and Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford.
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