Naperville Police Chief Discusses SAFE-T Act Local Impact

File image of exterior of Naperville Police squad car
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Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres recently took part in a virtual forum to discuss the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, better known as the SAFE-T Act.

The League of Women Voters of Naperville hosted the Dec. 14 forum. Chief Arres answered questions regarding reforms to the criminal justice system included in the SAFE-T Act, such as pretrial detention and the elimination of cash bail. 

The SAFE-T Act was signed into Illinois state law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on February 22, 2021. Additional provisions from the act will go into effect in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2023. The governor recently signed some amendments clarifying the language in some of those sections.

Police Officer Conduct & Cameras

The SAFE-T Act implements new guidelines and training for law enforcement officers in Illinois. These restrictions include the ban of chokeholds and clarification on when deadly force is justified during search warrants. Arres said the Naperville Police Department is ahead of the curve when it comes to some of these changes.

“There are pieces that will be codified into law (such as the ban of chokeholds) that this department has had in for as long as I can remember,” said Arres. “It’s not a huge change to anything, it’s more formalizing it.”

In conjunction with the new SAFE-T Act mandates, the City of Naperville is boosting its police training budget for 2023. 

“The money spent upfront trains our people on how to respond to a multitude of incidents,” said Arres. “By investing that money, it provides a better service to the community. If we weren’t as well trained as we are, that could create liability issues on the back end.”

The SAFE-T Act requires all law enforcement agencies to use officer-worn body cameras by 2025. The Naperville Police Department spends over $440 thousand per year on car and body cameras, which provide more safety and accountability for both citizens and officers. Arres mentioned most of the budget goes toward storage of the camera film, which is accessible by any citizen through a FOIA request. 

“When we went to in-car cameras in 2014, that was our first big step into technology,” said Arres. “Once (officers) saw the benefit of the in-car cameras and the evidence it captured, showing the great work they’re doing out there, they couldn’t wait for the body cameras to get here.” 

Naperville police officers have been wearing body cameras since this past June. 

Cash Bail

Under new provisions of the SAFE-T Act, suspects will be detained until trial if they pose “specific, real and present threat” to a person or the community, or if they have a high likelihood of willful flight. Judges will make the final determination on whether or not the suspect is released before trial. 

“That was a big concern, that there weren’t enough serious offenses (to detain someone) in the original version of the SAFE-T Act. A lot more have been added and they’ve changed the language. They’ve added (potential to threaten) the community as a whole. The state’s attorney can make a case to the judge that the suspect should be held until their first court date so they can do more assessment and to protect the society at large,” said Arres.

Even before the introduction of the SAFE-T Act, those who do not show up for their court date have a warrant registered into a nationwide database, where any police officer can access the necessary information. 

“A lot of what you hear on every side of the equation is, ‘less safe, less accountability,”’ said Arres. “True or not, the message is out there and it emboldens some folks to feel like they can get away with more. A big part of what is changing is who is held, how they’re held and what determines to hold them until their trial. Remember, it doesn’t change if that person is found guilty.”

Trespassing Concerns

Recent changes legislators made to the SAFE-T Act from the original draft include language around how police officers can deal with trespassers on private property. 

“If we don’t get voluntary compliance, we have to write them a citation,” said Arres. “If the behavior doesn’t change, law enforcement now has the ability to arrest someone from that. We had some good discussions with our legislators and they have put that discretion back in our hands in terms of the steps we want to take.”

Arres is confident in the Naperville Police Department’s ability to adjust to the new standards of the SAFE-T Act come the new year. 

“Trailer Bill 3 was just signed, and I would have loved to see them give us at least three months to implement this (into training),” said Arres. “Again, I’ll say we need some change in cash bail, but we’re going to adapt and we’re going to overcome it.”

Naperville News 17’s Will Payne reports.

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