Op-ed from State Rep. Mazzochi: SAFE-T Act Misinformation

Springfield is legendary for sloppy, slapdash legislation. The enormously consequential “SAFE-T Act” is no exception. 764 pages long, dropped around 3 a.m. with debate limited to just two members, in a lame duck session. The vote was called; the bill was set to fail.  But Democrat Kelly Burke, sitting in the speaker’s chair, refused to record the vote in the customary time.  Despite pleas from the floor to finish recording the vote—she let the law’s agitators and backers badger and harass their fellow Democrats to switch votes. DuPage Democratic legislators abandoned their districts’ interests, casting the votes needed to reach 60.

Many SAFE-T Act problems are complex. Some are simpler. Local law enforcement routinely handles potential criminal trespass violations, someone who refuses to leave a bar, restaurant, retail business, or private property. Usually, an officer’s threat of forcible removal to the station or a judge motivates them to leave. Starting January 1, the trespasser gets a paper ticket, and the officer has a duty to leave.

House Speaker Welch recently admitted that this is a ridiculous outcome. But this is what the law requires: 725 ILCS 5-109-1 was changed to add subsection a-1, which limits law enforcement to issuing just “a citation in lieu of custodial arrest” for various crimes, one of which is criminal trespassing, so long as the individual poses “no obvious threat to the community or any person,” or for some circumstances to their own safety.

Welch’s spin: a refusal to leave is “exactly” the “obvious threat to the community” justifying the use of force to arrest. That was the old law. Not the SAFE-T Act. Amended 720 ILCS 5/7-5(a) lets officers use force only to “effect the arrest,” or “during the arrest,” which for trespass now is limited to issuing the paper ticket “arrest.” Until the trespasser, or the property owner, escalates to imminent risk of bodily harm, the SAFE-T act denies police legal authority to use force to get the trespasser off the property.

The SAFE-T Act’s amended subsections (e) and (f) of 720 ILCS 5/7.5 reiterate this viewpoint, discouraging officers from using any force against an arrestee. Subsection (h) warns that an “imminent harm is not merely a fear of future harm, no matter how great the fear and no matter how great the likelihood of the harm, but is one that, from appearances, must be instantly confronted and addressed.”

Judges and officers don’t have the luxury of calling a dog a duck.  They must apply laws as-written, not as-intended. Read the bill. Your local law enforcement has. Democrats are 100% responsible for the SAFE-T act.  They created a mess, and contrary to the law’s name, it’s utterly UN-safe.