Promoting Public Safety

As the top attorney in the state, the attorney general can and should be a strong advocate for smart criminal justice reform that is based not just on “tough on crime” rhetoric, but rather, on what actually works from a law enforcement perspective. The attorney general can promote statewide best practices and a legislative agenda for reforms that can help address the injustices inherent in our current systems that adversely affect the poor and people of color.

As an assistant attorney general, federal prosecutor and chief administrator for the Civilian Office of Policy Accountability, I have seen how and when our justice system works well and where it needs improvement. I will stand up a Public Safety Bureau within the office to provide more strategic and proactive collaboration and coordination with law enforcement agencies and state’s attorneys to:

(1) identify and implement evidence-based crime fighting strategies;

(2) foster improved accountability and community engagement for law enforcement statewide; and

(3) pursue smart criminal justice reform that will address overincarceration and bail reform.

The following outlines some of the initial reforms I would seek to introduce as Attorney General.

A.    Setting reasonable standards for the use of lethal force

Dashcam video of the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald from October 2014, released in the fall of 2015 put the spotlight on Chicago in a national debate over the use of excessive force by police against minorities. The U.S. Department of Justice investigated and found the Chicago Police Department has a culture of "excessive violence," especially against minorities, and lacks adequate training and supervision.

One of the most fundamental duties of police officers is to protect life. International law only allows police officers to use lethal force as a last resort in order to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury. The way courts interpret the U.S. Constitution leaves us with a standard for the circumstances under which a police officer can use deadly force that is unacceptably low. Until the Supreme Court recognizes this and raises the standard to one that is more appropriate and humane, we must affect change in state law and policy that can limit the use of deadly force to only when absolutely necessary. We all know that officer-involved shooting incidents are happening far too often and place all citizens, particularly people of color, at risk.

B.     Statewide task force on use of force and accountability

As AG, I will create a statewide task force on the use of lethal force to review and reform existing laws, policies, training and practices on police use of lethal force, as well as a thorough review and reform of oversight and accountability mechanisms, to ensure that police are not permitted to use lethal force except where it is necessary to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury. This task force will be comprised of law enforcement, criminal justice, legal, and other relevant experts, and community leaders. The goals for this task force will be to:

●       Recommend a policy governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement based on best practices and community input that can be promulgated for use statewide;

●       Recommend revisions to the state law governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers;

●       Recommend the content and frequency of statewide reporting on use of force incidents that result in death or serious injury; and

●       In collaboration with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB), recommend the content and frequency for annual training for law enforcement officers on use of force, de-escalation, crisis intervention, and implicit bias.

In particular, annual mandatory training, based on the latest social science research and best practices in law enforcement, will help officers to maintain their critical incident response skills and will provide regular reinforcement of the principles of constitutional policing. Communities in Illinois will be more secure when law enforcement has the tools and training they need to address today’s public safety challenges. This new training will be an important step forward in promoting fairness and making all communities safer.

C.    Introduce training, oversight, and protocols to improve the integrity of officer-involved shooting investigations

According to a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WBEZ, 113 police shootings have taken place in suburban Cook County since 2005 and not a single officer was disciplined, fired or charged criminally. The report reveals almost none of those shootings were reviewed for misconduct.

This must be addressed immediately by introducing: (1) training for law enforcement officers and/or civilians involved in officer-involved shooting investigations; (2) legal oversight and review of officer-involved shooting investigations; and (3) updated  protocols to improve the quality and integrity of officer-involved shooting investigations.

  1. Training on investigative strategies and tactics for officer-involved shooting investigations: Before  launching the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, I made it a requirement for  all COPA investigators to take part in an in-depth training program which included instruction on strategies, tactics, and best practices regarding the investigation of officer-involved shootings and death incidents. As Attorney General, I will work with the Illinois State Police and the ILETSB to create and implement a statewide training program for law enforcement officers and civilian personnel involved in these investigations. 
  2. Legal oversight and review: The legal framework related to the use of force and law enforcement accountability is quite complex. Law enforcement agencies that investigate use of force incidents should involve lawyers to ensure the investigative process is conducted consistently with governing law and policies. Lawyers also should review the findings and recommendations from these investigations to ensure the investigative process is  thorough, the findings accurately reflect the evidence, and the legal analysis is sound. I will work with the Illinois State Police, other law enforcement agencies and the state’s attorney’s offices to ensure these complex investigations have the requisite legal oversight, and if necessary, devote agency resources to assist in providing this oversight. For example, one possibility is to have one or more assistant attorneys general assigned to monitor and review all shooting investigations conducted by ISP and other multijurisdictional task force entities.
  3. Review of investigative protocols: The quality with which officer-involved shooting investigations are conducted can greatly impact the ability to hold an officer accountable. Unless the proper investigative steps are taken at the right time, evidence can be lost or tainted. I will immediately convene a team of lawyers to review and make recommendations regarding the policies and protocols that govern officer-involved shooting investigations conducted by the Illinois State Police and any multijurisdictional task force entities operating within the state.

D.     Revisions to address gaps in police accountability legislation

It is imperative that legislation enacted to address policing issues be clear and structured in a way that will effectively address the legislative intent.  I will work closely with the Illinois legislature and in consultation with law enforcement to ensure that proposed legislation reflects best practices in policing and has the appropriate content to effectively address the policing issues at hand. To that end, I will propose revisions to clarify two recent pieces of legislation related to police accountability: the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act and the Law Enforcement Criminal Sexual Assault Investigation Act.

More specifically, the Law Enforcement Criminal Sexual Assault Investigation Act, which was signed into law in August 2017 and became effective as of Jan. 1, 2018, requires the investigation of a sexual assault incident involving a police officer must be conducted by two investigators who have completed a specialized sexual assault and sexual abuse investigation training program approved by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board. These investigators, however, cannot be employed by the same law enforcement agency as the accused officer. Shockingly, the legislature carved out the Illinois State Police and the Chicago Police Department from this requirement. This is a major gap in the statute that must be addressed as soon as possible.

E.     Propose new standards on police certification

As outlined in the BGA/WBEZ report on deadly force, all too often officers who inappropriately use force in one municipality are often rehired to work in another. We want to ensure officers who are unfit to serve are unable to maintain their state certification. Currently, law enforcement officers can lose their state certification based on a very narrow set of circumstances. Such circumstances include having been convicted of a felony offense and lying under oath during a murder investigation.

I will propose additional circumstances that can lead to de-certification of law enforcement officers in Illinois. More specifically, I will propose there be a rebuttable presumption that an officer will be decertified if found to have used excessive force resulting in death or great bodily injury, or if the officer is found to have willfully made a material false statement in the scope of his employment.  The officer may have the opportunity to rebut the presumption by presenting evidence before the board to explain the conduct at issue.

Finally, I will propose new transparency so that Illinois residents will have access to information as to whether an officer has completed mandatory annual training and is certified. This information will be available to the public. Currently, the information is available only on request and is forwarded only to the officer or individual making the inquiry and cannot be forwarded to a prospective employer, university or community college (for college credits).