CHICAGO - A controversial, recently passed bill in Illinois that critics have warned will exacerbate the issue of rising crime in the state will also hinder the work of police and negatively affect law enforcement morale, which is already at an all-time low, Chicago locals and crime experts told Fox News Digital.
"It's opening the door for the anti-police activist community and the attorneys that represent them that are anti-police," retired Chicago Police Department Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy told Fox News Digital about the Safety Accountability and Fairness Equity Today Act (Safe-T Act), which is set to be enacted in January 2023 after being pushed through the Democrat-controlled Illinois legislature in the final hours of a lame-duck session and signed by the state’s Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Roy took issue with several aspects of the bill beyond the one eliminating cash bail, including one that eliminates the requirement that officers accused of misconduct be told the identity of their accuser as well as the identity of the official who is investigating them.
"The problem that nobody sees or turns a blind eye to is the effect on morale, recruiting and retention," Roy said. "Anybody can just make a complaint against an officer. The department or the investigating body does not have to tell the officer who it is, which hinders their ability to respond to the complaint accurately and honestly. It has a bad effect on morale."
Plummeting police morale across the country in the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter riots and calls from Democrats to defund the police have come at the same time Chicago has experienced 60% more police officer suicides than the average law enforcement agency.
Roy told Fox News Digital that he is also concerned about a provision in the law that prevents an officer accused in a use-of-force incident from reviewing his or her body camera footage before giving a statement. Officers can now amend their statements after viewing the footage, but that, Roy notes, makes two reports — a situation Roy says is "ideal" for attorneys looking to cast doubt on the story of an officer who may not have accurately reported every detail simply from memory in the first report.
"In criminal or civil cases arising from arrests, this bill is great for defense attorneys and for lawyers who like to sue the police," Roy said.
Chicago Alderman Anthony Napolitano, who represents the city’s 41st Ward, told Fox News Digital that his constituents are "beside themselves" over the "horses---" bill" and that he agrees with Roy that the bill will further downgrade police morale by eliminating cash bail and releasing criminals back onto the streets with just citations.
"It’s just completely wrong in the direction we are going with crime and punishment," Napolitano said. "The Safe-T Act basically says if you commit a crime you get a strike two, a strike three, a strike four, a strike five, it’s just the wrong way to go about it."
Napolitano added that police he has spoken with oppose the Safe-T Act and say it will make it even harder for them to do their jobs.
"They don’t even want to, they’re almost wasting pen ink writing paperwork or typing because states attorneys are downgrading charges, judges are throwing charges out. This is pure nonsense for anyone to support the Safe-T Act."
Illinois, specifically the city of Chicago, has been struck by skyrocketing crime since 2020, and at the same time arrests are dropping to historic lows due in part to sweeping changes being made to how police are allowed to pursue criminals and to prosecutors having a tighter grip on approving felony charges.
The troubling Chicago crime wave is almost certain to get worse if the Safe-T Act were to pass and crimes such as trespassing are relegated to ticketable offenses, Zack Smith, legal fellow and manager of the Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy Program in the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center, told Fox News Digital.
"Under the new law, entire categories of crimes such as aggravated battery, robbery, burglary, hate crimes, aggravated DUI, vehicular homicide, drug induced homicides, all drug offenses, including delivering fentanyl and trafficking cases, are not eligible for distinction, no matter the severity of the crime or the defendant's risk to a specific person or the community unless prosecutors prove by convincing evidence that a person has a high likelihood of flight to avoid prosecution," Smith said. "When you read that list, that's shocking."
Smith added that the bill is going to "make a bad situation even worse" and echoed the concerns from Roy and Napolitano that the jobs of police officers in the state will get even harder.
"You're handcuffing authorities and police officers even more," Smith said. "One of the less discussed pieces of this is that the law makes some misdemeanors only ticketable offenses in many cases, and there's a very strong presumption that officers will issue a summons to appear, not tickets, for many of these offenses, and so not only are you changing bail laws, you're also handcuffing police officers in many ways when they go out and do their jobs."
"Well, let's just set the record straight with everybody. The Safe-T Act is designed to keep murderers and domestic abusers, violent criminals in jail," Pritzker said.
"Making sure that we're also addressing the problem of a single mother who shoplifted diapers for her baby, who is put in jail and kept there for six months because she doesn't have a couple of hundred dollars to pay for bail," Pritzker continued. "So, that's what the Safe-T Act is about. Are there changes, adjustments that need to be? Of course, and there have been adjustments made and there will continue to be. Laws are not immutable."
Roy says people interested in the bill should look no further than the dozens of county prosecutors across Illinois who have voiced opposition to the bill.
"I think the fact that 100 out of 182 elected county state's attorneys in Illinois are against this bill, those provisions specifically, speaks for itself," Roy said. "When you have the overwhelming majority of the chief law enforcement officers in the local community speaking out and saying it's bad for their communities, you know that's something, it’s a powerful message."