Police Shooting Bill Goes To Governor’s Desk

Legislation passes the Illinois House after a BGA/WBEZ investigation exposed how suburban police were not disciplined despite questionable shootings.

Without opposition, the Illinois House passed legislation requiring police be subject to thorough reviews when they shoot someone, placing the matter before Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Following a series earlier this year by the Better Government Association and WBEZ that examined suburban police shootings, the bill was introduced by state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago. It passed the House by a 107-0 vote after sailing through the Illinois Senate last month. Raoul is the Democratic nominee for Illinois Attorney General.

The bill would require all police shootings in Illinois to undergo an internal review for policy violations or procedural mistakes. While that’s a routine practice at larger police departments such as Chicago’s, the BGA/WBEZ investigation revealed it was not done in most suburban departments.

In addition to the reviews, the bill requires all police departments to adopt a policy for their police shooting investigations.

The bill in the House was sponsored by state Rep. John Cabello, a Republican from Machesney Park near Rockford, and Rep. Juliana Stratton, a Democrat from Chicago running for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. He has pledged to organize task forces to address the issue.

In introducing the bill for a vote Wednesday, Cabello said the legislation “will help hopefully alleviate some of the questions that people have” about police shootings.

Critics thought the bill stopped short of desired change, including civilian oversight.

“It’s all politics,” said Eric Russell, executive director of the Tree of Life Justice League, a Chicago-based police reform group. “We haven’t put a whole lot of faith into legislation...we’re just cautiously optimistic about it.”

But advocates argued the measure would still help change a culture in Cook County where only rarely did departments conduct procedural reviews in 113 shootings that took place between 2005 and 2017. No officers involved in those shootings were ever disciplined for their actions.

The Illinois State Police currently review all police shootings in suburban Cook County, but the scope of those reviews is limited to criminal violations. The state police probes do not examine if procedures or best practices were followed. The BGA/WBEZ investigation found a pattern of chiefs not conducting administrative reviews and failing to punish officers in questionable cases where officers shot unarmed suspects, children or even each other.

It remains unclear how police departments with strained budgets serving high-crime communities — where many suburban Cook County police shootings took place — will conduct these reviews.

Several police chiefs have said they did not have the resources to conduct reviews following a use of deadly force. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has offered his services to suburban departments who needed help conducting investigations.

The BGA’s policy unit, which operates independently of its investigations team, has supported the bill.