Local law enforcement reacts to ruling on cash bail, SAFE-T Act

‘We're glad the Kankakee County judge ruled the way he did’


OGLE COUNTY — Ogle County State's Attorney Mike Rock and Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle announced in a press release Dec. 29 that Ogle County will not be subject to the SAFE-T Act no cash bail provisions as a result of a Kankakee County judge ruling Wednesday, Dec. 28 that lawmakers overreached their constitutional authority in passing a measure to abolish cash bail in Illinois.

Other provisions in the wide-ranging SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform were not affected by the ruling, such as reforms to police officer training and certification standards and police body camera requirements. The Ogle County Sheriff’s Office is required to start body cameras Jan. 1, 2024 and smaller departments such as the Rochelle Police Department will start Jan. 1, 2025.

A Dec. 31 order from the Illinois Supreme Court stayed the cash bail provisions’ implementation for all 102 counties until the court could rule on an appeal to the case on an expedited but indefinite timeline. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said recently in a news release the state will appeal the decision directly to the state Supreme Court.

VanVickle and RPD Chief Eric Higby spoke with the Ogle County Life and Rochelle News-Leader in the past week about their reaction to the cash bail issue. VanVickle and Rock were directly involved with a lawsuit involving 61 other counties that resulted in the Dec. 28 ruling. 

“We're glad the Kankakee County judge ruled the way he did,” VanVickle said. “We look forward to hearing what the Illinois Supreme Court has to say. We had constitutional concerns about the implementation and limiting the effectiveness of the judges.”

VanVickle said his office did a lot of work in preparation for the planned elimination of cash bail on Jan. 1 that did not take place. The sheriff’s office was ready for the implementation and met with the state’s attorney’s office, judges and local police departments to provide them with policies and operational structure. He said if an appeal results in the elimination of cash bail, those policies will be ready and used unless there is a change.

The sheriff said recent preparation efforts were difficult. 

“There were questions we had for the judges that couldn't be answered right up until the last week,” VanVickle said. “That's a concern when you have legislation that's as far-reaching as the elimination of cash bail. People didn't have answers when the implementation was less than a week away. That's a concern.”

VanVickle said he believes the Supreme Court will review the case and the fate of cash bail “fairly soon” and an answer could be seen in late winter or early spring.

Higby echoed the sheriff’s sentiments on implementation and said the planned change was hard to prepare for over the past month. If an appeal does cause the elimination of cash bail to take place in the future, he has concerns for the community, including victims and officers.

“That one person who now can get out becomes a danger to everyone, depending on what offense you're talking about,” Higby said. “But there are some offenses in there that people really shouldn't be out at all, or without posting something. We're talking decent felony-level crimes. I do not want to see that go through and have the people that should be in jail, or should at least have to post bond, out in the community again.”

The RPD chief said he has concerns that the elimination of cash bail would allow offenders to immediately return to the residence or business where they caused a problem. He also believes it could cause issues for victims of crimes.

“With regard to the pretrial release element, it sends an unacceptable message to the victims of these crimes,” Higby said. “When someone calls for police assistance and then realizes that the offender will be released even after an arrest, it will be disheartening. There would likely be less cooperation from the victims who would fear additional crimes.”

VanVickle said his biggest issue with the possible elimination of cash bail is taking control out of the hands of local judges. He believes the power should stay with judges to determine bond amount and how long those charged should be held on a case-by-case basis.

Proceeds from cash bail have always been relied upon by the Ogle County court system and if eliminated, VanVickle said a void will be left.

“That is a huge concern moving forward,” VanVickle said. “But the bigger concern for me is the safety of the public. The elimination of cash bail does nothing other than benefit the criminals and the people that are charged with the crimes. For me, that's the primary concern, the public and law-abiding citizens and how this lawlessness will impact them.”

The SAFE-T Act’s increased training and certification standards have impacted local departments as well. Higby said some of that training can be done online, but training for issues like use of force and felony traffic stops have to be done in person. That involves overtime and getting creative with staffing for patrol.

VanVickle said his office’s training budget increased last year by over a third, not including overtime incurred from paying for additional deputies to spend time training or back fill to cover the roads.

“I'm not against training by any stretch of the imagination,” VanVickle said. “But there are expenses that come with training. For a small agency like us, it requires overtime to fill those vacancies."

For body cameras by January 2024, the sheriff’s office will pursue state grant funding this May and VanVickle said the goal is to receive that funding to help with the expense, which will include data storage and ongoing expenses for the cameras.

While RPD is not required to have body cameras until January 2025, the department and city budgeted to buy them this year due to supply chain issues and increased prices.

“I don't know when they'll actually be deployed, but we wanted to get them early,” Higby said. “The state isn't going to care if January 2025 comes if we don't have them due to supply chain issues. We wanted to make sure we acted early and we get them here. We have people working on grants. It's a lease program. I think it's $25,000 a year over five years for $125,000 total. That includes storage and training.”

VanVickle testified against the original SAFE-T Act as a whole years ago in front of the state legislature ahead of its passing.  

“And just a few short hours later it was voted on and passed,” VanVickle said. “The implementation of all of the different pieces have been right up to the last minute. The original bill was voted on in one January and there were changes made through the entire spring session through early summer with implementation of some of those items in July. This is the way this act has been. This is why you don't pass legislation in the middle of the night without a public review. Because you end up with these constantly-changing issues in a piece of legislation that was obviously poorly written and now it’s being determined by the courts if some of it is even constitutional."