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Local sheriffs say lawmakers are rushing police reforms

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PEORIA (HOI) -- Lawmakers in Springfield are expected to have a late night on Tuesday as their lame duck session comes to an end. One of the bills expected to be up for a vote could bring major changes to policing in Illinois.

Lawmakers with the Illinois Black Caucus made their intentions clear during a press conference on Sunday.

"To end the systemic racism that has plagued our community for far too long," said one lawmaker.

State legislators are looking to achieve that goal by passing House Bill 163, a 611 page document that calls for several changes to the state's criminal justice system. Those changes include eliminating cash bail, mandating a statewide use of force policy, and eliminating qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity is something Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower says ensures officers are able to do their jobs.

"Qualified immunity protects you if you're following the law, you're following the policies of the department, and you're following the constitution…that's the only time it protects us," said Lower.

Those pushing for reform disagree, saying the policy enables some officers to abuse their power.

Both Lower and Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell say there are proposals within the bill they support, including more transparency when it comes to disciplinary records or establishing statewide policies for use of force.

Asbell says other changes can be made too, as long as law enforcement is included in the conversation.

"You're not going to change a culture through legislation, and that's truly what they're trying to do is change this police culture, but that's where you need to have a slower approach," said Asbell.

Supporters, like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, disagree.

"We believe that the authority to mandate implementation should not be dependent on the will of the police department, but rather certain reforms should be codified at the state," said Preckwinkle.

If the bill does pass, Lower says he fears officers around the state and within his own department will quit or retire as soon as they can.

Andy Weber

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