SAFE-T Act Sparks Discussions In DuPage, Naperville

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The pending enactment of many of the provisions of the SAFE-T Act set to take effect in the new year has been the subject of much local discussion on both sides of the aisle. This past month has seen a panel discussion, town hall, and public forum by different groups all focused on aspects of the bill.

What Is the SAFE-T Act?

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the SAFE-T Act, short for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, into law in 2021. It is a sweeping reform of the Illinois criminal justice and police systems. The Act touches on police training policies, police accountability, court reforms and detainees, and prisoner and citizens’ rights, among others. Some provisions of the Act have already been enacted, such as the use of body cameras by police departments in large municipalities. Others will take effect beginning January 1, 2023.

Issue With Current Language In the Act

At issue for many is the language in several sections of the Act that are coming up for enactment on that January 1 date.

“The law as currently drafted, the SAFE-T Act, is opposed by 100 of the 102 states attorneys in the state,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin at a Monday night forum at Naperville’s Municipal Center. ”That includes both Republicans and Democrats. The lawsuit that’s been filed by over 50 states attorneys includes both Republicans and Democrats, and the three states attorneys who are working with the general assembly on the language right now also includes bipartisan teams. So from our perspective in the states’ attorneys association it is bipartisan, it’s just about public safety. “

Removal of Cash Bail

One part of the bill spurring controversy is the Pretrial Fairness Act, a provision that eliminates cash bail. Under this new system, judges will use certain conditions, rather than making bail, to determine whether a defendant should be released from custody ahead of their trial.

State Senator Laura Ellman (D-Naperville) who voted for the SAFE-T Act said the no-bail provision could keep dangerous people behind bars until they go to court.

“There are tremendous benefits,” said Ellman, “So right now, with cash bail, someone who is dangerous can buy their release. If you have enough money and you’re dangerous, you can go free.”

Currently, when a judge is determining whether to release a defendant on his or her own recognizance, they consider whether that defendant will pose a danger to any person or to the community. Berlin said under the new Pretrial Fairness Act, the wording has shifted, removing the “community” aspect. This nuance, Berlin says, is at the crux of the matter for certain sections of the law.

“And that community is critical because that is where we get some of the significant bonds that we see in this county for violent crimes, for first degree murder, for carjackings, for sexual assaults. When you hear about $500,000 bonds or $2 million bonds, it’s most likely because someone is determined by the court to be a threat to the community.”

By the same token, due to the new wording, Berlin says the law is very strong in domestic violence cases.

Berlin said the law will be not retroactive in DuPage County, and there will not be a flood of criminals let loose. “Meaning it will apply to all crimes beginning January 1st and thereafter,” he said.

Trespassing And Other Low-Level Misdemeanors

Another sticking point for many is the change in consequences for low-level misdemeanors in the Class B and Class C categories like trespassing. For those transgressions, police may not detain an offender, but instead, issue a citation.

DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said that new protocol would negatively impact his department.

“We will not be able to physically remove people for trespass. Just that simple, that’s going to be a challenge. The threat of arrest resolved almost every single trespass complaint I’ve ever had. If you don’t leave, this person’s going to sign a complaint, then I will have to take you to jail,” said Mendrick.

However if a trespasser is deemed to be a threat to either themselves or to the public, they may be arrested. Senator Ellman agreed there was some need for refinement in the bill in this area.

“There is some confusion about Class B and Class C misdemeanors and whether people can be taken into custody. Clarification is needed because it’s not particularly clear in the current bill. It’s going to be reviewed in the veto session,” said Ellman.

That six-day veto session is set to begin on November 15, to discuss changes and add potential trailer bills to the SAFE-T Act before it officially goes into effect on January 1, 2023.

NCTV17 Reports.

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