IL sheriff: Don’t be ‘overzealous’ prosecuting victims failed by SAFE-T Act who use force to stop criminals

An Illinois sheriff is warning prosecutors not to be “overzealous” in prosecuting victims of crimes who take matters into their own hands once the state’s liberal SAFE-T Act shackles law enforcement’s ability to address crimes in progress.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker in early 2021 but the most controversial aspect is set to take effect January 1, 2023, and law enforcement across the state is preparing for significant changes to the criminal justice landscape.

Beginning January 1, judges will no longer require anyone to pay money to get out of jail while they await trial. Instead, judges will determine who remains locked up and who goes free.

The SAFE-T Act also makes it easier to decertify officers accused of misconduct, redefines when police can use force, creates an anonymous police misconduct tip line, requires officers to intervene if another officer is using excessive force and prevents prosecutors from applying felony murder charges to people participating in a crime where a death occurs if they did not directly pull the trigger.

The bill also changes the way registered voters are counted. Previously, incarcerated persons were tallied in their home county. Now, inmates will be counted in the county where they are incarcerated, inflating populations in prison towns, giving them significantly more power in the state.

The adoption of the act prompted an unprecedented wave of retirements and resignations of law enforcement personnel across the state. More than 30 sheriffs opted to retire, resign or not run for reelection because of the liberal reform bill.

“They’re quitting as a direct result of the legislation,” Illinois Sheriff Association (ISA) Executive Director Jim Kaitschuk said at the time.

The bill, which is opposed by 100 of the 102 state prosecutors, could have far-reaching consequences for victims of crime, Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard warned in an interview with Fox News.

Illinois currently has three self-defense laws on the books: defense of persons, defense of dwelling and defense of property. Because law enforcement’s responses will be stymied by the law in many situations,  Bullard foresees victims of crimes utilizing appropriate force to remedy the situation themselves.

“If somebody is trespassing on your land and they refuse to get off, a civilian does have a certain level of force they can use to stop that crime,” he said. “I believe instead of calling the police and getting the police to remove them. In certain jurisdictions the police are going to show up, write a ticket and then leave and the person is still there. I think you will see instances where civilians take matters into their own hands and use hopefully what’s an appropriate level of force to get the people to stop committing the crime that they are doing.”

Situations like this could lead to criminal prosecution of victims of crime because law enforcement was not able to deal with the actual criminal, Bullard said.

“It’s important for the law enforcement that do not want this act, state’s attorneys who don’t want this act, they need to be cognizant of these other laws,” the Southern Illinois sheriff said. “And they need to not be overzealous in prosecuting these victims when they do use lawful force when the system has failed them. When they use lawful force to stop a crime in progress on their property.”

Bullard warned that the repercussions of the bill that was forced down their throats are going to be far-reaching.

“It’s just going to make things a lot more difficult, not only for the criminal justice authorities but also for people who are victims of crime,” he said. “We absolutely object to how this law was written.”

According to Bullard, Cook County, home to Chicago, is the only county in the state that supports the reform with 58 county-level lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.

“Cook County probably had this in mind for jail population reduction but that is not a problem in Southern Illinois,” said the sheriff with 30 years of law enforcement experience. “We have plenty of bed space for people who want to act like knuckleheads at 2 o’clock in the morning. We would advocate that if Cook County wants to have this kind of reform in their county by all means go ahead but the rest of us don’t want it.”

While Pritzker claims people oppose the act because of “far-right extremist lies,” many sheriffs believe the law will increase crime and curtail any inroads they’ve made as the SAFE-T Act shackles law enforcement’s ability to stop crimes in progress.

“We have a higher crime rate than what we’d like to have,” Bullard said. “We are always working on that. Over the last few years we’ve been finally making some ground, reducing the population of dangerous repeat offenders in our community. It’s had a positive affect. What we fear is by the revolving door that the elimination of cash bail is going to create that it will negatively affect our crime rate and it will create unnecessary victims.”


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