Analysis, Law and Order, Local Police Reports, Opinion

Chief Winfrey Reports on what the SAFE-T Act Means for Police

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Park Forest Police Chief Paul Winfrey reported in a statement Wednesday his analysis and concerns on the Illinois SAFE-T Act. Among other things, the Act will eliminate cash bail in Illinois, eliminates the “felony murder” statute, and prevents police from arresting people charged with DUI and other traffic offenses.

The SAFE-T Act goes into effect on January 1, 2023.

Chief Winfrey’s statement follows with some words in CAPS as originally written by the chief:

In the early morning hours of January 13, 2021, without adequate time for elected officials to review the legislation, the Illinois “SAFE-T Act” was passed. Many provisions of this law are already in effect, including phased-in implementation of body cameras, restrictions on use-of-force by police, and a large increase in mandated training. We all agree that reforms are needed in many areas, certainly including in law enforcement and the legal system, and this legislation addresses some of those issues. I have read the entire 764-page legislation and two subsequent “trailer bills”.

Having heard various claims over the past few months, I wanted Park Forest residents to get FACTS in order to determine if the changes coming in 2023 are a good thing for Illinois and Park Forest. Examples are provided not to influence residents’ opinions but to show the real-world impacts of the legislation.

Below is a synopsis of what appear to be the most controversial aspects of the bill for 2023. I apologize for the length of this post: It deals with important provisions that simply could not be shortened.

  • Illinois will become the 1st state to eliminate cash bail, which is money that is posted as an assurance that a defendant will appear in court: if they fail to appear, they forfeit the money posted. Currently, a Judge first determines if there is probable cause to charge an arrestee officially, then reviews the seriousness of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, history of appearing/failing to appear in court, and any mitigating factors that the arrestee may present before setting bail. Judges can and do release defendants without requiring bail if it is deemed appropriate. The new law requires the release of defendants except for any arrestee that the State’s Attorney’s Office can prove (within 48 hours) poses a “specific, real, and present threat to a person or has a high likelihood of flight,” even those charged with certain non-probational offenses (mandatory prison sentence if convicted).
    • “Willful Flight” means “Planning or attempting to intentionally evade prosecution by concealing oneself”. It is not clear how prosecutors can prove what a defendant is planning. The fact that a defendant has failed to appear on previous cases is specifically stated as not sufficient to show their intent.
  • Any defendant currently in jail awaiting trial will be released unless they meet the criteria above.
  • Much has been said about how this legislation will stop the jailing of those charged with low-level crimes such as shoplifting, etc. In my almost 28 years of law enforcement experience in 3 different counties, I have never seen someone charged with these crimes held in custody unless there are significant other aggravating factors, such as having many previous criminal arrests/convictions. This legislation does prevent those individuals from being detained.
  • Defendants can be assigned “Home Confinement,” which could mean Electronic Monitoring (EM) or simply a curfew. They must also be allowed free movement at least two days per week. Each day of home confinement will count as a day in custody off any prison sentence they receive if convicted. Currently, in Park Forest, we have two people who have been on home confinement/EM for over two years. Any sentence that they receive will be reduced by this time.
    • Those on Home Confinement or Electronic Monitoring must violate that monitoring for 48 hours before they can be arrested. A defendant could drive to Florida and back and not be arrested for a violation.
    • Those who violate home confinement or EM for misdemeanors such as Domestic Battery can only be cited for the violation and not arrested.
  • Those committing Traffic Offenses and Class B and C criminal misdemeanors, such as Criminal Trespass, Disorderly Conduct, DUI, and Driving with a Revoked License, must be cited and not arrested unless the person is an “obvious threat” to others or themselves. If someone comes onto your property and refuses to leave, Police cannot arrest them: they can only issue a citation, even if they continue to refuse to leave your property. Drunk drivers will be cited and released. These defendants will not be fingerprinted, so those arrests will not show on a criminal background check for future similar crimes. This conflicts with existing law requiring that anyone charged with misdemeanors (like DUI or Trespass) be fingerprinted, causing confusion as to which law Police should follow.
  • Judges are no longer required to issue warrants for defendants who fail to appear in court, even for the most serious, violent crimes. They can simply issue a “notice to appear” and set a new court date. This is in contrast to many cases that are dismissed if the VICTIM fails to appear in court.
  • Those currently out on bond for criminal offenses who have failed to appear in court and have warrants for their arrest cannot be arrested for those warrants. Let’s face a hard fact: those who commit crimes and then fail to appear in court very often continue their criminal behavior. This year Park Forest Police have recovered numerous illegal firearms after traffic stops in which the driver or passenger was arrested for an outstanding warrant. In 2023, those firearms (pistols, revolvers, and rifles) will still be on the street.
  • The “felony murder” statute is eliminated. Most of us heard, growing up, that if three people rob a store and someone dies during the crime, all three will be charged with 2nd-degree murder. This will no longer be the case.
  • The offense of “Habitual Criminal,” which involves those convicted of 2 felony crimes and charged with a 3rd, now only applies to crimes committed after the defendant turns 21. The convictions for any crimes committed from age 18-20 cannot be considered.
  • Anyone who is “cited and released” must have a court date within 21 days. Given the processing times required by the Clerk’s Office (at least ten business days once the paperwork is completed, reviewed, and transferred to the court), this is impossible to meet, and no mechanism is in place to address the issue.

There is currently talk in Springfield of making additional revisions to the legislation before the implementation of these provisions on January 1, 2023.