Few issues are as polarizing as gun control. Similarly, the pre-trial treatment of people charged with crimes also elicits strong emotions on both sides. The SAFE-T Act was the Legislature’s attempt to create a fairer criminal justice system regarding detention standards for the accused. Support and disdain for the legislation is ratcheting up as the implementation date of Jan. 1, 2023, approaches for many of the more controversial provisions, including the end of cash bail.
Whether you support or oppose the SAFE-T Act, I think there are many things on which most of us can agree. Take body cameras, for example. I think there is general agreement that body cameras are a good idea. If used properly, there are benefits to both crime victims and police officers.
I think we can also agree that releasing dangerous criminals back into our neighborhoods while they await trail is not in the best interest of public safety. DuPage State’s Attorney Bob Berlin has provided several examples of violent offenders who today can remain behind bars, but as of Jan. 1, 2023, would be released pending trial. He called the SAFE-T Act a “self-contradicting law” that will make our communities less safe. He points to inconsistent detention requirements and heightened burdens on judges that will make it extremely difficult to order pre-trial detention for most defendants.
We need look no further than Cook County to see how disastrous the elimination of cash bail has been. There are countless examples of repeat offenders who were arrested and released through no cash bail, only to commit more, often violent crimes.
Can we also agree that passing a 750-page bill in the middle of the night during a lame duck session of the Legislature is not ideal? In lame duck sessions, outgoing legislators have no accountability to voters, so they’re more likely to vote for controversial measures.
And can we also agree that overhauling the criminal justice system without having law enforcement at the table is problematic? But that’s how the SAFE-T Act came to be. It was a middle-of-the-night vote with zero input from law enforcement.
With points of agreement as a starting place, I fully support the City Council’s recent decision to further discuss problematic areas of the SAFE-T Act and call into question the judgement of those council members who didn’t support further discussion. We all want a safe community and a fair criminal justice system, so let’s do a deeper dive into the so-called SAFE-T Act and decide how it can be improved for the betterment of all.
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Grant Wehrli is a lifelong Naperville Resident and former Representative in the Illinois House of Representatives and Naperville City Councilman.