From Driver’s Licenses to Police Body Cams, the SAFE-T Act Contains Much More Than Cash Bail Changes

With the Illinois Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in March, it will likely be months before justices decide the fate of cashless bail in Illinois.

But the bail transformation spelled out by the Pretrial Fairness Act is just one of many provisions contained in a still bigger law: the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T Act.

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The lawsuit filed by about half of Illinois’ state’s attorneys sought to kill the entire SAFE-T Act, but prosecutors didn’t get their way. In late December, a Kankakee County judge found the cashless bail component unconstitutional but left the rest of the SAFE-T Act, which has been law since early 2021, intact.

That means, despite the legal pause on cashless bail, major changes to Illinois’ criminal justice system are, or will be, underway — regardless of what the state’s high court decides.

Among them:

1. Driver’s License Suspensions

Illinois drivers are no longer getting stripped of their licenses because they didn’t pay speeding tickets or other traffic violations, and anyone whose license was suspended should have it long back by now.

The ACLU of Illinois’ director of criminal justice policy, Ben Ruddell, said it’s a change that hasn’t received the attention it should, considering the impact it can have on people who couldn’t afford to pay fines.

“That was creating a vicious cycle where people can’t drive to work. They can’t drive to work, they cannot pay,” Ruddell said. “The fines pile up, and the licenses are suspended. It wasn’t promoting safety. It was stopping people from working and taking care of their families.”

2. Police Use of Force

Police cannot use chokeholds unless an officer believes deadly force is needed to prevent death or injury.

If an officer sees another wrongly using such a tactic, it’s the officer’s responsibility to intervene. The law also affords protections to the intervening officer from retaliation.

If force is used, the officer is obligated to render aid.

“You can’t just fire rubber bullets into a crowd, you can’t aim them at somebody’s head or at their pelvis,” Ruddell said. “Those things are meant to be used in a more measured fashion. Officers cannot use deadly force against a fleeing person.”

3. Body Camera Requirement

All police interactions will be recorded come 2025, when the SAFE-T Act requires officer-worn cameras statewide.

Body cams are already in use in Chicago, and the SAFE-T Act has required them for Illinois’ largest municipalities since the start of 2022.

The Illinois State Police and law enforcement in the smallest municipalities and counties, with populations under 50,000, must have them in place come 2025.

4. Police Misconduct Complaints

Those who take issue with an officer’s behavior can now file a misconduct complaint anonymously, without having to sign a sworn affidavit.

“That doesn’t take away the need to investigate and verify those complaints,” Ruddell said. “ ... We don’t move straight to discipline from an anonymous complaint. But we don’t want people who are being victimized by police misconduct to be frozen out or have a chilling effect on their willingness to come forward because they believe they’re going to suffer consequences from a vindictive officer or department.”

5. Prison Count

The nation completed a census in 2020, but come 2030, it will be time for another population tally.

Starting then, inmates housed in state prisons will no longer be counted for census purposes as residents of wherever the penitentiary is located; they’ll be counted as residents of the community from which they came.

Other provisions of the SAFE-T Act that have, or will, go into effect deal with police training, lifting mandated sentencing minimums and prohibiting state police from purchasing surplus military equipment like grenade launchers, tracked armored vehicles and ammunition that is .50 caliber or higher.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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