Gov. Bruce Rauner on Sunday signed into law a new measure requiring all police departments to conduct detailed administrative reviews in police shootings just like most larger departments already do.
The new law was prompted by an investigation by the Better Government Association and WBEZ into failed oversight in dozens of suburban Cook County shooting cases.
The bill sailed through the General Assembly without opposition on May 24 with a bipartisan coalition of sponsors, passing the Senate 49-0 and the House 107-0.
“There is more work to be done, and I look forward to continuing to focus on improving police-community relations,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, in a written statement. “The governor signing this legislation is an important step to restoring trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
The four-part BGA/WBEZ investigation identified dozens of questionable police shootings – most in predominantly black suburbs – including 20 cases where police fired at moving vehicles, 30 in which suspects were unarmed and another half-dozen in which police errantly shot each other or innocent bystanders.
National experts told the BGA and WBEZ that police often violated their own policies and best practices by ramping up confrontations instead of de-escalating them, endangered innocent bystanders and even tampered with evidence after a shooting.
Still, in 113 shootings reviewed from a 13-year period beginning in 2005, not a single suburban officer was fired, disciplined, or even re-trained as a result of an errant shooting.
“It’s outrageous,” said Raoul, who is running for attorney general, in interview before filing the bill aimed at addressing the problem. “There is a presumption that police departments are doing what people expect police departments to do … I am absolutely frustrated.”
Raoul led a long list of legislative sponsors of the new law, which now requires all departments to conduct a formal review into the actions of police officers as they pertain to tactics and police procedures. It also requires all departments to set forth their policies on these investigations in writing and make them available to the public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Some critics and police faulted aspects of the bill, saying it was simply window dressing that didn’t address the most serious issues with police oversight. Among other complaints, they say the bill still allows police departments to investigate themselves, and call for an independent outside review.
“How much faith should we really have when a Senate bill gets passed that it’s going to do a whole lot about changing the culture of the police department?” said Eric Russell, executive director of the Tree of Life Justice League, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to police accountability.
There have been at least 24 police shootings in 16 Illinois counties excluding those in Chicago where a person was hit or killed since the BGA/WBEZ series published, and an overwhelming majority of those cases remain under legal review.
Some departments interviewed for the series attributed a lack of resources to their inability to investigate their cases. In January, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart offered to assist any department with administrative investigations of police shootings in January.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin proposed a hearing about providing training and assistance to departments in shooting cases, but tabled the measure awaiting a move in Springfield. The next board meeting is scheduled for September 11.
The measure signed into law Sunday was among several criminal justice reforms approved during Rauner’s tenure as governor. A 2015 law requiring criminal investigations of police shootings was also sponsored by Raoul and supported by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
Other legislation signed by the Governor includes measures related to juvenile justice reform, a 2017 law requiring drug tests after police shootings, a law requiring pre-sentencing reports that identify when jail is not the best option for first-time offenders, and practices related to job licensing for released offenders and phone-call rates from prison.
The BGA policy team, which operates independently of the investigative unit, supported the bill.