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Republican lawmakers want to give DCFS workers pepper spray to protect themselves

Senators McCombie, S. Turner, and McClure speak at a press conference on Feb. 15.
From left, state Rep. Tony McCombie, Sen. Sally Turner, and Sen. Steve McClure, all Republicans, speak at a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022.

In the last four years, two investigators have died on the job working for the Department of Children and Family Services. Sponsors of new self-defense legislation say they hope to prevent such deaths from happening again.

DCFS investigators are currently not permitted to carry pepper spray on the job. Senate Bill 4165 would change that.

State Sens. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Sally Turner, R-Lincoln, say they hope the use of pepper spray can provide an option if an investigator is in a dangerous situation like the lethal home visits that resulted in the deaths of investigators Pam Knight, who was attacked in 2017 and died in early 2018, and Deidre Silas, who was killed this past January.

It’s unclear if an act of self defense could have saved Knight or Silas. But Turner said she hopes the bill provides investigators a moment to defend themselves against perceived danger.

“If they just would have had one moment to help them to escape … This is what we're here for. Just to offer that one moment,” said Turner, whose district includes parts of Bloomington, Morton, Washington, and Lincoln.

The bill also establishes a training program by the Illinois State Police for DCFS workers who wish to carry and use pepper spray on the job. McClure, the bill sponsor, said the training will be thorough and focused on self defense.

Retired DCFS policy chief Deanna Large said mace should not only be allowed, but issued to workers by the department.

“We issue staff phones and laptops to do their jobs. A self defense tool such as mace or pepper spray -- that's just another tool. It is as essential as those phones and those laptops,” Large said at a press conference Tuesday.

This bill is one of many introduced this session to increase protection for DCFS workers. Other measures to be voted upon include security escorts for home visits and increased punishment for those who attack DCFS workers.

AFSCME, the union for DCFS workers, supports SB 4165. The department itself has yet to take a position.

While currently only sponsored by Republican members, the bill is expected to have bipartisan support from Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest. The legislation corresponds with House Bill 5688, filed by Rep. Sandy Hamilton, R-Springfield.

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