The mayor of a Chicago suburb, Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, said a new law overhauling the state’s criminal justice system that goes into effect in January could cause crime in Illinois to “spiral out of control.”
“When I said that this is the most dangerous law I’ve ever seen, I believe that,” said Pekau, who is running for Illinois’ 6th District in Congress.
According to Pekau, the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act changes multiple parts of the justice system in Ilinois, including ending cash bail, allowing defendants under electronic monitoring to leave home for 48 hours before they can be charged with and escape, and limiting how flights determine whether defendants are flight risks.
The new law, signed last year, will go into effect on January 1. “I don’t think we know what’s coming from this,” said Pekau. “I think we can project that if criminals are allowed to run free, and police officers can’t protect citizens, citizens are going to start protecting themselves and take the law into their own hands.”
The SAFE-T Act, a 764-page legislation, passed both chambers of the Illinois legislature in seven hours without input from stakeholders and no formal hearings. “The whole thing is concerning to me because it was just a potpourri of everything, and it didn’t bring into consideration law enforcement, judges, or all the stakeholders in place,” said Pekau. “It was basically to allow criminals to go free.”
The law also puts into place a higher standard on when a defendant can be detained for several crimes, including aggravated battery, kidnapping, second-degree murder, and arson. The new legislation replaces cash bail with a judge’s determination on the risk to the public from evidence prosecutors submit and a flight risk.
According to Pekau, the reforms being passed across the country revolve around the idea that “the criminal shouldn’t be held.”
“I think that’s absurd,” said Pekau.
Proponents argue new law will combat systemic racism
Proponents of the law argue that the SAFE-T Act will make the criminal justice system more equitable and combat systemic racism; according to a 2022 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, minorities face higher rates of pretrial detention disproportionately.
“We’d be ending wealth-based jailing and restoring the presumption of innocence in the courtroom, which is something that is really under fire and it is not valued under our current system,” said pretrial justice fellow of the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, Kareem Butler.
Pekau said that in addition to eliminating cash bail, the law would drop trespassing from a Class A misdemeanor to Class B. He also mentioned that, as a result, police wouldn’t be able to remove any non-violent trespassers from a property physically.
Candidate Pekau emphasized that in Orland Park, “Our police officers would say if someone’s trespassing, the best tool they have to get someone to leave willingly is to say ‘you’re trespassing, please leave or we will arrest you.’”
He continued, “Well, now they can’t arrest; they can only write a ticket. So, they get to stay in that business, on your property, at your house, etc.”
“We create potential anarchy because law enforcement can’t do their job, and then people feel that they have to do that job. People aren’t trained in the use of force. They’re not trained to de-escalate situations,” said Pekau. “Lots of bad things can happen out of this, and it could potentially spiral out of control relatively quickly.”
Pekau expressed optimism that Illinoisans would vote for state legislators who passed the bill. “I really hope that this thing gets repealed. I hope the voters wake up and do the right thing. Their votes matter.”