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Senate Republicans again look to repeal the 'Anything But SAFE-T' Act

GOP Crime Press Conference
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State Sen. Chapin Rose spoke at the Senate Republicans' press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday made an emotional appeal on behalf of Illinois police officers, who they say are not receiving the support they deserve from lawmakers.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, introduced the GOP’s new package of proposals, including some that would undo parts of the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that passed last year. Rose spoke to the press Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda, along with state Sens. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, Steve McClure, R-Springfield, Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods.

Republican senators accused the Democratic supermajority of passing the SAFE-T Act without enough input from law enforcement.

“Our law enforcement officers, who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, were cut completely out of the process. The governor and his legislative allies sent a clear signal that the voice of law enforcement (was) not welcome at the table,” said Bryant.

The SAFE-T Act was signed into law in February 2021. It abolishes cash bail, overhauls police certification and reforms use-of-force standards, among numerous other provisions. Proponents say HB 3653 will make Illinois safer by making the justice system more equitable for Black, Latino, low-income and minority communities that have been disproportionately harmed by disparate policies in sentencing, incarceration and policing. The original bill faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and law enforcement groups.

GOP senators on Tuesday cited a rise in crime in Chicago as a reason to consider police needs more directly. They say police need more funding, more recruits, and the opportunity to provide more input on their individual departmental needs.

Appearing alongside the senators Tuesday were retired Piatt County Sheriff David Hunt, Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettlekamp, and Chris Southwood, president of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police.

All three spoke of the increasing number of law enforcement members leaving the profession, which they say is due to a lack of support from lawmakers and an increase in violence against the police. Sixty-one police officers were killed feloniously by firearms in 2021, a 36% increase from the previous year, NPR reported this month. Nineteen of those officers were killed in "ambush attacks," which the report says is also a significant increase.

The Republican package of proposed bills includes the “Fund the Police” grant program, mandatory sentences of 10 years to life for violent gun offenders, and a repeal of the Bail Reform Act, which was signed into law just last year.

“Our current system is failing all of us. Violent crime is surging unchecked in our communities all across the state. This legislative package, if passed, could be the beginning of a safer Illinois for all of us,” Southwood said.

The Bail Reform Act will eliminate cash bail in Illinois, and, like many parts of the SAFE-T Act, has yet to go into effect.

“We hope to see the same level of support when it comes time to vote for state budgets that actually fund state and local police,” said Senate Democrats spokesperson John Patterson of the Republican push for funding.

Senate Democrats have yet to comment on the involvement of police departments in the development of last year’s criminal justice reforms.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.