Ill. police chiefs prepare for start of SAFE-T Act's cashless bail
“Our message for our officers is, 'Take your time. Slow down and make sure that you’re complying with the law,'" Lockport Police Deputy Chief Ron Huff said
By Alexandra Kukulka and Hank Sanders
CHICAGO — South suburban police chiefs expressed uncertainty about how cashless bail, which goes into effect Monday, will affect their communities, but said the biggest change for police officers will be the issuance of bonds and arrests.
Cashless bail was a measure of the SAFE-T Act, a criminal justice reform bill signed into law in 2021. Some Illinois prosecutors filed a lawsuit seeking to block the measure, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in July cashless bail will take effect Sept. 18.
“It’s a wait and see at this point to see how this plays out,” said Palos Park police Chief Joe Miller. “The decision has been made. My job is to make sure that our people, when they go out in the field, have all the tools they need to do the job.”
Anyone charged with a forcible felony, which includes first- and second-degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary and arson, or poses a real and present threat to himself or herself or others will be taken into custody, Miller said.
However, anyone committing traffic violations, class B and C misdemeanors, petty business offenses or local ordinance violations will be cited and released, Miller said.
As officers interact with people suspected of the lower level offenses, if the person has proper identification, doesn’t pose a threat and doesn’t have an obvious medical or mental health issue, then the officer should issue a citation, according to the Pretrial Fairness Act, the measure of the SAFE-T Act that addressed cashless bail.
Instead of bond receipts, Miller said police officers will issue those facing lower level charges with a citation and notice to appear form. By extension, officers won’t have to drive someone charged with a lower level offense to the police station or to Cook County jail on the weekend, he said.
Cook County will likely see a minimal change to its jail population after cashless bail takes effect, Sheriff Thomas Dart said, because about seven years ago the county implemented bail reform that curtailed cash bail.
Dolton police Chief Robert Collins said the biggest change will be in the courtroom. In place of traditionally fast and chaotic bond court calls, prosecutors seeking to detain someone must make their case in a lengthier hearing, with defendants allowed more of a chance to make a case for their being released.
In Cook County, the courts will have a midday initial appearance call for defendants who will be released with conditions, along with a morning and afternoon court call for the longer detention hearings, county officials said earlier this month during an event outlining the changes.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow declined to be interview for this story.
The Illinois Supreme Court said in a statement Wednesday it has taken “significant steps to prepare the Judicial Branch for pretrial reform,” citing the creation of the Commission on Pretrial Practices in 2017, which led to the formation of the Pretrial Implementation Task Force.
The General Assembly also created a fund with $10 million strictly for public defender services for counties outside of Cook, the statement read.
Cashless bail will be different for police officers in terms of what paperwork they fill out, Collins said. But officers will still respond to crime and will issue tickets or make arrests as before, he said.
“The only difference is now, since it’s a cashless bail system, people who are financially disadvantaged have more of an opportunity of being outside of a jail cell to prepare their defense,” Collins said.
Collins said Cook County officials haven’t given much clarity about how officers should implement cashless bail, but county officials have held training sessions this week.
Lockport police deputy Chief Ron Huff said cashless bail won’t affect the department much because officers release anyone suspected of a low level crime without a monetary bond.
The biggest shift will be understanding under what felony offenses people will go to the Will County jail, Huff said. The law lists about five pages of felony offenses that would require someone to go to the county jail for processing, he said.
“Outside of domestic battery arrests, we probably won’t see a huge number of people getting taken to the Will County jail,” Huff said. “We don’t see a huge amount of violent crime.”
In the last week, Lockport officers have received training on which charges cashless bail applies to, Huff said.
“Our message for our officers is, ‘Take your time. Slow down and make sure that you’re complying with the law.’” Huff said. “The last thing we want to do is detain someone who shouldn’t be detained.”
Dart said Tuesday Illinois is the first state to eliminate cash bail, though it has been done in smaller jurisdictions.
“There isn’t a long history of looking at it to say, after it went into effect things got safer, they got more dangerous,” he said.
U.S. Rep Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove said it will take time to know the impact of cashless bail.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the changes in the law in Illinois do not preclude the ability of a judge to include pretrial detention. It just says that you can’t buy your way out of pretrial detention with a cash bail,” Casten said. “What that means practically is that we will not only be releasing people before their trial who are wealthy.”
Dart said he agreed with Casten because he’s seen people who needed a few hundred dollars to post bail that couldn’t come up with the money while someone with gang affiliation paid thousands of dollars for bail.
Allowing people without financial resources prepare for a potential trial outside of jail allows them to maintain a job and support family, Casten said.
“You would think that would help long-term crime trends but I think it will take a while to see those trends play out,” Casten said.
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, who ran against Casten in the 2022 election, said the Cook County state’s attorney’s office hasn’t provided much guidance on how officers should implement cashless bail.
“They haven’t given us much of a playbook for how they are going to handle this. Until we actually see what they do in practice, we’re just going to have to adapt,” Pekau said.
Huff said the system is still set up to keep violent offenders in jail as opposed to being released on the streets.
“It’s just a matter of making sure that the judiciary has the discretion they need to keep violent people behind bars and not out in the community,” Huff said.