Officials: SAFE-T Act not about safety

Police chief, state’s attorney among critics who say law protects criminals, not public

The Safety Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, has an inaccurate acronym, in Hinsdale Police Chief Brian King’s opinion.

“I think the name SAFE-T Act is a complete misnomer,” King said. “It’s reform legislation for criminal justice.”

Some provisions in the law, such as the requirement that officers wear body cameras, have been beneficial to the community and law enforcement, King said.

“There are also parts of that legislation that are deeply problematic from a public safety standpoint,” he added.

The Hinsdalean talked to King following a presentation from Bob Berlin, DuPage County state’s attorney, at the Sept. 20 Hinsdale Village Board meeting. He was invited there by Village President Tom Cauley to address the act.

The legislation also was the topic of a discussion hosted by state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-47, Elmhurst) and DuPage County Sheriff Jim Mendrick Monday at the Hinsdale Public Library.

This story addresses concerns raised during the interview with King and at both public meetings.

Citations, not arrests

Berlin first addressed the act’s directive that police “shall issue a citation,” for Class B and C misdemeanors, which includes trespassing. That means police can no longer arrest someone for trespassing unless they present an obvious threat or have a mental health issue.

Berlin offered the example of someone who is having a drink at a restaurant and refuses to leave at closing time.

“Are they an obvious threat to the community? Probably not,” he said. “The police then cannot make a custodial arrest in that situation.”

Mendrick offered several examples as well, from a person who is looking for a warm place to sleep at a grocery store or refuses to leave the local library at closing time. All law enforcement can do is write a ticket, he said.

“It will be up to the library staff to remove the person,” Mendrick said.

“Everyone says it can’t be true because it’s so preposterous. It is that preposterous and its also true,” he said.

Mendrick said he’s also concerned about people taking the law into their own hands if someone is trespassing in their back yard.

“Well, I’ll just shoot them,” he said he’s heard people say. “When I hear that response, I start to get nervous.”

No more cash bail

Another provision calls for the elimination of cash bail for many crimes, including several felonies, unless the individual poses a threat to a specific, identifiable person or is a flight risk.

Both will be difficult to prove, Berlin said. Not showing up in court for previous cases will not be considered evidence of a flight risk.

“The only way that we’re going to detain people in these cases to show willful flight risk is to show they have a plane ticket to get out of town or if they made a statement to police saying, ‘If I get out, I’m going to flee the country,’ ” he said.

Berlin said no one believes suspects should be detained solely because they can’t post bond, but judges need more discretion to determine who is a danger and should be detained.

“That’s what we’re asking for — to give judges discretion,” Berlin said. “By doing that, we’ll have the right people detained, the people who are a threat, the people who are dangerous.”

Mendrick has another issue with limiting the individuals who are detained pretrial. The many suspects who come in high on drugs or alcohol will not go through detox or be evaluated by the correctional facility’s psychiatric staff.

“I’ll be turning them away in a process so quickly, they’ll still be on the substance when I put them back on the streets,” he said.

Cauley, who noted crime is driving some corporations from Chicago, said the bill will have a direct impact in the region and in the village.

“We’re going to see more (criminals) on the streets, more businesses leaving Chicago, more crime in Hinsdale,” he said.

Electronic monitoring

Another provision that troubles King allows individuals who have been sentenced to electronic monitoring to be absent without permission from that monitoring for up to 48 hours.

He brought up the robbery at the Verizon store earlier this summer, where one of the individuals involved was on a home monitoring bracelet from Cook County.

Police did apprehend the individual and recover the property. Had police received a call about the suspect wearing a ski mask near the property — which one man witnessed but did not immediately notify police about — they would not have been able to arrest the suspect for violating his home monitoring.

“It defies logic,” King said. “The provisions of the SAFE-T act give you two days off a week to do whatever you want.”

King also noted that one of the three suspects apprehended by Hinsdale police earlier this month in the shooting of a 12-year-old boy in Chicago was out on bond for two Class X felonies in Cook County.

“This cycle of taking violent, armed individuals and putting them back on the street creates a public safety issue for everybody,” he said.

Mazzochi also spoke to the issue of repeat offenders, particularly involving violent crime.

“This is a very clear philosophy of not locking up people who have committed crimes,” she said.

Warrants vs. summons

Right now if someone doesn’t show up for court without an explanation, the state’s attorney can get a warrant to have the individual arrested. Under the SAFE-T Act, a summons would be issued prior to an arrest warrant. When police serve a warrant in Chicago, they get support from the Chicago police, Berlin said. That won’t be the case with a summons.

“These suburban police officers are not going to be going into areas of Chicago to try to serve a summons on violent crime,” Berlin said. “It’s not safe. They don’t have the manpower to do it.”

Financial implications

One of the themes at Monday’s discussion at the Hinsdale Public Library was the financial burden the act and its ramifications will have on taxpayers.

New limits on how much force an officer can use during an arrest could lead to suspects later suing police departments.

“There’s going to be lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit and your municipalities are going to be responsible for the bills,” Mazzochi said. “All of this is going to have very real downstream costs.”

The law’s requirement that bond court be open every day, including weekends and holidays, also will carry a high price tag, Mendrick said, noting a new facility is under construction in DuPage.

“You should see all the money just pouring into that building with all the construction,” he said.

What’s next?

Officials believe some changes will be made to the act before it goes into effect Jan. 1.

“I think they’re starting to realize the bill is flawed,” Mendrick said. “I think the governor said something about fine-tuning it. Six months ago, it was, ‘No way — we’re not changing a thing.’ ”

Mazzochi noted the narrow margins with which the bill passed the House and Senate and encouraged people to get out and vote.

“Elections have consequences,” she said. “You need to change the numerical dynamics in Springfield.”

She also suggested contacting Gov. JB Pritzker, and Mendrick recommended reaching out to state legislators.

Lawmakers have begun paying more attention to the complaints about the act, Berlin said.

“The public is paying attention and fortunately the media is picking up on it,” he said. “There have been a number of articles written about it.”

When Cauley asked if it would help if the village passed a resolution, Berlin responded in the affirmative.

“I think it would help, yes,” he said. “I think every little bit of input might be able to move the ball.”

All the speakers agree the issue should not be a political one. Berlin said he is working with 100 state’s attorneys, Republicans and Democrats, to try to fix the problems with the act.

“We’re all on the same page and it’s all about public safety,” he said. “We’re trying to get language that will keep people safe but we’re running out of time.”

Mendrick offered a different perspective.

“When you call 911, we don’t say, ‘What’s the nature of your emergency and are you Democrat or Republican?’ ” he said.