Navigating the Impact of the SAFE-T Act

On March 18th, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Works Committee welcomed DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin and Naperville Chief of Police Jason Arres to discuss the SAFE-T Act, particularly the elimination of cash bail, which became effective September 18th, 2023.

Berlin and Arres provided a thorough synopsis of the upsides and challenges that law enforcement and the courts have faced in the past six months.  In addition to the elimination of cash bail, the two discussed police certification, body cameras, and the failure to appear in court no longer being charged as a separate offense in Illinois.  

Concerning certification, Chief Arres indicated that while a larger municipality like Naperville has the resources, officers, and time to properly certify the department, smaller communities have run into problems in carrying out the law due to a lack of resources. Arres was happy to point out that this element of the SAFE-T Act was a bipartisan effort that included feedback from the law enforcement community, which goes a long way in making certification meaningful. It was also discussed that decertification standards were also strengthened, assisting in more cohesively removing bad cops from the ranks.

Body cameras have also been implemented with their own set of pros and cons. On the plus side, officers appreciate the use of body cams as there is now tangible proof to back up an officer’s description of a scene. Chief Arres also mentioned that, as in most stressful situations, 100% recall is difficult, so body cam video helps to solidify details that best serve all parties involved.

The downside includes the sheer volume of video content that must be reviewed by officers and prosecutors alike. Many calls involve multiple officers, and the video evidence must be viewed in full from each officer on the scene by the State’s Attorneys office. In order to comply with the Act involving body cam video, the county has incurred costs of over $20 million to update, implement, hire staff, and expand physical spaces. Storage of records and video evidence has also been greatly expanded.

State’s Attorney Berlin brought attendees up to speed on the process for detention, including the ins and outs to the particulars of a crime and how they affect who can be detained and who is released. For instance, if a defendant is alleged to be involved in a burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle, retail theft, or organized retail crime, that individual cannot be detained unless they are shown to be a flight risk. If a defendant flees the scene and is caught by police, they are more likely to be detained. If they do not flee and are arrested at the scene, those individuals cannot be detained. This has become a point of frustration among judges, prosecutors, police officers, and victims.

Berlin stressed there is a definite benefit to the elimination of cash bail as violent offenders can no longer bail out of jail. A list of certain violent offenses provides a guarantee of keeping those defendants off the street. However, State’s Attorney Berlin and Chief Arres would like to see is a higher level of discretion for judges, prosecutors, and officers. They referred to similar laws in New Jersey which do provide more leeway for officials as well as a presumption of detention, whereas the defendant must make the case not to detain, instead of the other way around as is the process in Illinois. “We want the right people detained pre-trial” commented Berlin. “If a defendant is not a risk to the community, and they are likely to appear in court, they should be released.”

Berlin also outlined the social cost of the Act when residents feel anxious and adopt a “looking over the shoulder” mentality in conducting their everyday lives. The implications of trespassing and fleeing police under the Act were also outlined during the forum.

Both Berlin and Arres are hopeful that additional improvements will be adopted by the state legislature that will improve the current system such as increased discretion for judges and addressing the unintended consequences that have come to the surface since the Act was implemented.

If you would like to view the forum, you will find it on the NACC YouTube channel or at this link.

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