Testimony of Chief James R. Black, ILACP President

 Prepared Remarks

Senate Executive Committee – January 9, 2021

House Judiciary Criminal Committee – January 10, 2021

Springfield, Illinois 

Chairman Sims and members of the Committee, [and Chairman Slaughter in the House], thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak today. My name is Chief James Black, chief in Crystal Lake and president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

I am sure you are going to hear testimony today from proponents of this bill telling you that this bill is going to improve policing. I’m here today to tell you it will not. In fact, it is my belief and the belief of our 1,300 members that this will destroy law enforcement’s ability to keep our communities safe.

There isn’t enough time today discuss the 611 pages of this huge bill. I have reviewed this bill a few times and I am still having trouble digesting all the language that was filed and made available to us late Tuesday evening. 

One of the most detrimental aspects of this bill is the elimination of qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. Proponents will tell you that qualified immunity prevents law enforcement officers from being sued. That is false. What are commonly known as Section 1983 violations – violations of civil rights -- can still be brought against police officers. And they are. This bill will allow people to sue us for anything, for frivolous reasons, with the hope not of winning, but of getting a settlement from a municipality. We literally will have been stripped of any legal protections.  It should be noted that the Illinois Municipal League released a qualified immunity letter, in August, outlining what qualified immunity is and that it should not be eliminated or diminished for law enforcement. On January 8, 2020, a letter was sent to General Assembly members by a coalition of mayors and managers from northern Illinois opposing this legislation. Additionally, the Illinois States Attorney’s Association is also opposed to this legislation as currently written.

There is a good reason that some call this the Defund the Police Bill. The bill does in fact  defund municipalities for violations of some sections of this bill by removing funding sources and interrupting as much as 40% of the total Local Government Distributive Fund money.

Meanwhile, the bill ignores all of the common-sense recommendations that we made for improving the body camera law, because we all want more agencies to use body cameras.  The trouble with the bill is that it does what we asked you not to do. It mandates that all police departments purchase body worn cameras without a proper funding mechanism.

Also, this bill makes significant changes to Use of Force and limits our ability to potentially deploy less lethal force options. Illinois banned chokeholds five years ago, but this bill includes the impractical notion of having no action above the shoulders, to the groin or back. We support a new statewide modern standardized use of force policy for all agencies, but not the language in this bill.

The bill also contains language that creates a mandatory one-hour access to 3-phone calls for detainees with no latitude for emergencies, in addition to a prohibition on interviewing detainees for one hour.

Let me provide you with a very practical impact of that.

In April 2019, in my community of Crystal Lake, a  5-year-old boy was reported missing by his parents. This little boy was AJ Freund. He was struck in the head multiple times while being forced into a freezing cold shower for soiling his pants. His parents calculated what they were going to tell police after he was found deceased from his injuries. These two monsters dumped his body in a rubber tote bin and left him in their basement for several days before burying him in a shallow grave in a corn field. If this bill was law at the time of that incident, I can tell that there is a great likelihood that we would never have recovered little AJ’s body as quickly as we did and it could have provided obstacles for law enforcement in obtaining valuable information about this incident and bringing his killers to justice. I ask you, do you want to stop law enforcement from finding murdered children? Is this the kind of bill you want made into law – one that would significantly interfere with the ability of law enforcement to do its job? We certainly do not object or want to interfere with a defendant’s right to request counsel, and we certainly don’t oppose the ability of a defendant to make phone calls. However, the way this 3 phone call bill is crafted would be detrimental not only to law enforcement, but to people in all of our communities.

There are many other serious concerns about language in this bill that, as a law enforcement community, we believe will be detrimental to the safety of the communities we serve. Many topics have been discussed conceptually, in some form or another, with members of the General Assembly over the last several years. However, we learned of the filing of this onerous bill late Tuesday evening. We have had discussions with Senator Sims over the last two days regarding our concerns over how damaging the current language of this bill is to Illinois residents and the law enforcement profession. If there have been any changes to this bill since it has been filed, we have not seen or agreed to any changes contained in the current language of this bill because it is not good practice to try and enact comprehensive legislation during the lame duck session. We spent more than an hour each on just two issues, and we could not come to agreement or resolution.

We are not opposed to police modernization or positive reform measures. I would like to state this one more time and be perfectly clear; we are not opposed to police modernization or positive police reform measures and we are willing to continue to collaborate with our lawmakers to find solutions to some of these difficult problems. It is just flat wrong to say that we don’t want changes or that we are fear mongering. These issues are far too important and far-reaching to rush a vote by the General Assembly in the next few days. To do so would be irresponsible, is a recipe for disaster and would have serious unintended consequences. So let’s keep talking in the next few months to achieve productive and lasting police modernization.

Thank you.