Naperville Police Chief and DuPage County State’s Attorney give SAFE-T Act updates

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On Monday, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce held an update conversation on the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act.

Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin spoke on the effect the SAFE-T Act has had on DuPage County, as well as recent data since the elimination of cash bail six months ago.

DuPage County detention request statistics

Berlin presented DuPage County detention statistics from when cash bail was first eliminated on Sept. 18, 2023, through Jan. 17, 2024. The data showed detention requests granted and denied at an offender’s first appearance in court. 

“You can see that on the real serious charges, we’re batting 100 percent. Murder attempt/murder, armed robberies, carjackings, home invasion, criminal sexual assault, hate crime, armed habitual criminal, threatening a public official, every single case has resulted in detention. This is where the law is working incredibly well,” said Berlin.

He also touched on other crimes where detention requests have been generally granted. This includes fleeing/eluding, with 13 detentions approved and 14 denied, and domestic battery.

“Most of your domestic batteries are misdemeanors. Those would always result in some type of a cash bond and most of those defendants were getting out. Now we’re seeking detention on most domestic batteries. You can see out of 177 detention petitions, 71 had been granted, that’s actually pretty good,” said Berlin.

While the SAFE-T Act has prevented more serious offenders from getting out on bond, Berlin spoke on instances where the requests for detention were denied.

“Here’s where we’re seeing problems with the law, the numbers on retail theft/identity theft and burglaries. [In] retail theft/identity theft, we’re 0 out of 28,” said Berlin.

For burglary detention requests, 17 were granted and 44 were denied.

In total, DuPage County had 47 percent of requests approved with 244 granted and 270 denied. Berlin added that the state’s average is around 65 percent and said DuPage’s is lower due to filing for more requests than other counties in the state.

In appeals, the county has had 72 as of March 12, 2024, all coming from defendants. This is a lower number compared to the rest of the state, according to Berlin.

“The idea was to make sure the violent offenders were being detained pretrial, that’s happening. But we are seeing a lot of other offenders, unfortunately, some of them who, in my opinion, and our judges’ opinion, should be detained, are getting out,” said Berlin.

Number of outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court

Berlin also presented the county’s number of outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court issued since the elimination of cash bail through Feb. 29, 2024.

The data showed major traffic cases have 934, felony cases have 193, misdemeanor cases have 181, DUI cases have 80, and domestic violence cases have 60 outstanding warrants.

SAFE-T Act body-worn camera program effects

Another addition from the SAFE-T Act was the implementation of body-worn cameras for all police departments by Jan. 1, 2025. Berlin spoke on the technological demands of this law.

“Body-worn cameras are terrific but this shows you the increase in body-worn camera uploads that we are receiving from police departments throughout the county. It’s an enormous increase in evidence,” said Berlin.

Attorneys are required to view the entire video from each police officer at the scene of a crime. The county has had to hire additional staff for this task.

“Overall, the cost of implementing the body-worn camera program, building out a new courtroom for the detention hearings, and the increased personnel to our office and the public defender’s office, which then resulted in the public defender needing new space in our building, so they moved up to the third floor, we had to expand our office, cost the county over $20 million,” said Berlin.

The Naperville Police Department hired two staff members in the records department to accommodate the increase in FOIA requests. Redacting takes a considerable amount of time, according to Arres.

“We have it down to about seven minutes of redaction time for every minute of body-worn camera video. So a 60-minute video is 420 minutes just on one officer’s body-worn camera,” said Arres.

Implementing more police certification training

The SAFE-T Act also added additional training for police certification in Illinois.

“For us, taking on some of these certification requirements and training requirements that came with that was not a huge lift. But even for us with these extra resources, it has taxed us in terms of the extra training classes, and more training is good, but there’s a ripple effect of how that affects the police department because those officers have to come off the street to attend the training,” said Arres.

Though Naperville has the training resources for this, Arres said smaller departments in the state might face challenges.

“A town like Lisle, It’s going to be a little more difficult to do that in-house and they’re going to need to rely on these mobile training units in Illinois and then those have limited seats,” said Arres.

There was little input from police departments in this decision according to Arres. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB) is working on a solution for the smaller departments.

Felony charges in the county

Berlin shared additional data on felony charges by year, noting the high rise in burglary charges jumping from 374 in 2022 to 561 in 2023. He said many of those charges are retail thefts, in which the Illinois Supreme Court categorizes the intent to steal from a store as burglary. 

“We charge them as burglaries if we can prove that. That’s one of the reasons you see a huge increase,” said Berlin.

Another felony that increased is robbery/aggravated robbery, which went from 30 charges in 2022 to 37 in 2023. Fleeing/aggravated fleeing had a big jump from 218 charges in 2022 to 397 in 2023.

“We have seen an enormous increase in people who just don’t stop for the police or they stop, an officer goes up to the car and they take off at a high rate of speed and it’s dangerous,” said Berlin. 

Charges that have gone down were unlawful use of a weapon (UUW) by a felon, from 121 charges in 2022 to 95 in 2023, aggravated vehicular hijacking, from 9 to 3, and armed robbery, from 28 to 22. 

Moving forward with the SAFE-T Act

Berlin hopes to make more crimes detainable under the dangerous standard like burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. His biggest push is for judges to have more discretion when detaining an offender. 

“I firmly believe that a judge is in the best position to make a decision [on detention] if someone’s a threat to the community, not the General Assembly,” said Berlin.

Along with clarifying language, Arres hopes for more input from police departments in the legislation.

Even with all the challenges, Berlin remains confident in DuPage County.

“We live in a very safe county, we really do. Fortunately, we’ve got the best police out there who are extremely professional, we do things the right way, and we’re all very well funded. That’s a testament to all of you and the people who live in this county because they value public safety,” said Berlin.

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