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Freeport lawmaker: ‘Sidearm and vest not enough, police need hate crime protections’

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FREEPORT (WREX) — On Monday, Governor JB Pritzker signed a controversial police reform bill into law. Some saw the signing of the bill as a way to hold police more accountable. Others saw it as a punishment.

One local lawmaker, Republican State Representative Andrew Chesney has opposed the bill since its inception. But instead of speaking against it while the governor was signing it, he filed new legislation that he says will help police in light of the reform bill becoming law.

"It's my view that a sidearm and a bulletproof vest is not going to be enough to protect our police officers anymore and they need hate crime protections," Chesney says.

So he filed Illinois House Bill 3715, which would make current and retired police officers a protected class.

"They're being targeted because they're police officers, the hate crime provision could be triggered, which would increase the penalties," Chesney explains.

Under the current hate crime laws, penalties can go from misdemeanors to felonies. If police officers become a protected class, that would apply to them as well. And it's something Jim Kaitschuk, the Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriff's Association, supports.

"In the last year, the level of angst and animosity — you hear a lot more negativity towards the police, so, to me, it only makes sense that we should have a protection as well," Kaitschuk says.

But as a Black man, local Democratic State Representative Maurice West is a member of a protected class. He calls Chesney's bill insulting and accuses him of fear-mongering.

"This bill does not enhance protections, but it does marginalize other protected classes of people that experience hatred," West says.

Ed Yohnka, the spokesperson for the ACLU of Illinois, agrees with West. Yohnka says hate crime laws were never about specific professions and police already have laws that protect them.

"This is the kind of overheated rhetoric that we hear from police whenever there's a change made to policing to hold police more accountable," Yohnka says.

Yohnka and West believe Chesney's bill weakens the strides and reforms made by the police reform bill Governor Pritzker signed Monday.

"This is not what people were asking for," Yohnka says of Chesney's bill. "If you look at the marches we saw last spring and last summer, those marches were about more accountability, not less."

As one hotly debated bill becomes law, another seeks to replace it.

According to the Illinois General Assembly's online records, Chesney's bill was introduced Monday, so nothing can be done with it before there are hearings and discussions. So, it has a ways to go before it can even be voted on.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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