While much of the news out of Springfield this year was depressing – with a lack of agreement on a budget and an endless session – we saw advancements on a number of important civil liberties issues throughout the session.
Perhaps most important, the legislature responded to public outcry after events in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and elsewhere, demanding more oversight and transparency of police. Late in the session, a bi-partisan group of legislators produced an omnibus policing bill that included significant input from the ACLU. The bill is complex, but has several important elements:
- The measure, for the first time, requires police all across the State of Illinois to track and record data about pedestrian stops. The ACLU has worked to address the problem of unfair and unconstitutional stops in Chicago, but has recognized that this also is an issue in other Illinois communities. This data will enhance advocacy efforts in these communities, and hopefully, improve police-community relations.
- The bill also mandates new training for police in Illinois, including training to address implicit bias. Such training helps law enforcement officials recognize their own biases and confront them in a fashion that reduces community tensions and escalations of non-threatening situations.
- And, the bill includes statewide standards for the use of police-worn body cameras, striking the right balance between transparency of police activities on our streets and personal privacy. As more communities consider and gain access to this technology, it is necessary to have these standards in place.
The legislation was a critical first step in policing reform across the state, and the ACLU plans to introduce bills in 2016 that include significant new reforms.
We also were happy to press for the passage of a measure – passed unanimously in both chambers – that addresses local ordinances that were negatively affecting survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well as those with disabilities. In recent years, more than 100 municipalities across Illinois have adopted so-called nuisance or crime-free ordinances. Under many of these local laws, a resident could be threatened with eviction if they phoned the police for help on a number of occasions over a designated period.
The folly of this is self-evident: if a woman is repeatedly abused by a partner or former partner, she should not be forced to choose between calling the police to protect herself or risk being evicted from her home, perhaps a home that she shares with her children.
The ACLU is working with communities around the State to bring their local laws into compliance with the state law, barring enforcement of these laws that do not have protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence and those with disabilities.
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