Pritzker signs sweeping criminal-justice overhaul

Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of policing and criminal justice that eliminates the cash bail system, requires police agencies to equip officers with body cameras and strictly defines use-of-force rules for law enforcement.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which designed the massive measure, hailed it as a historic response to the deaths last year of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Opponents argue that it will hamstring police and discourage talented people from joining law enforcement.

"This bill protects police officers," countered Pritzker, after signing the legislation at Chicago State University. He went on to add, "It also provides for funding for training for mental health services. It provides actually more for police officers, and doesn’t take away from them. I am actually very confident that this is going to make policing safer, and it is going to make the public safer."

The law has the support of several of Illinois’ top law enforcement authorities, including Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, both Democrats.

Major organizations representing police and prosecutors say they weren’t consulted on critical pieces. Among other things, they contend the use-of-force rules are too restrictive as to endanger officers; that dangerous people may be set free while awaiting trial; and that requiring body cameras for all departments by 2025 will be too costly.

"The governor is willfully undermining public safety — endangering citizens, emboldening criminals, and making Illinois less safe for families," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy said.

Cash bail would be eliminated in 2023. Washington, D.C. and the states of New York and New Jersey have undertaken similar efforts.

Critics of the cash bail system say it criminalizes poverty. Getting rid of it does not mean that everyone goes free while awaiting trial. Judges make that call based on the threat a defendant poses.

"What we’ve done is strengthen judicial discretion when it comes to determining whether someone is a threat to a person or community," said Sen. Robert Peters, a Democrat from Chicago. "We focused this explicitly and narrowed it so money does not play a factor. Money does not determine whether someone’s a threat."


The bill’s major sponsors, Sen. Elgie Sims and Rep. Justin Slaughter, both Chicago Democrats, have said they’re willing to work with police groups to tweak parts which might need improvement.

"You don’t switch on the switch and everything just happens," Slaughter said Monday. "We are going to have to evolve, level-set with law enforcement, talk about these issues, talk about these challenges."