County sheriffs offer to take lawmakers for a ride
Illinois Sheriffs’ Association launches ride-along program with members of General Assembly
By Ted Cox
Members of the General Assembly are going to be riding along with county sheriffs and their officers in a pilot program intended to promote “mutual respect and trust between communities and law enforcement,” set to launch in July.
“Both groups need to have a stronger relationship and more frequent dialogue if we want to have safe communities,” said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, in announcing the program at a Wednesday news conference at the Capitol. He called it “the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about how we can work together.”
Legislators from across the state will be invited to join county sheriffs and their officers on patrol, to gain an understanding of the local issues, and sheriffs will be invited to visit lawmakers in their districts in what amounts to an exchange program.
“This is about a partnership. It’s about collaboration,” said Rep. Justin Slaughter of Chicago’s South Side. “How do we immerse ourselves so that we can get a true, comprehensive understanding of what happens with law enforcement.”
“We attempt to solve just about every issue via legislation,” Kaitschuk said, “and this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.”
Rep. Marcus Evans Jr. of Chicago described the basic attitude on both sides as “let’s not talk about the problem, let’s take action.”
In confronting differences, they said, they expect to find similarities.
“What occurs in Knox County, Ill., may be a little different from what happens in Cook County,” said Knox County Sheriff David Clague, “and that’s the whole idea of the communication, of the dialogue between the sheriffs and the lawmakers.”
“I’ve done a ride-along with the Chicago Police Department,” Slaughter said, “but I haven’t with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.”
“As Rep. Slaughter indicated, there’s a considerable difference between urban policing in a lot of cases versus urban policing,” Katschuk said. But he added that, whether an officer is on constant call to the next incident, or suddenly being roused to a domestic disturbance after hours of patrolling cornfields, the “level of anxiousness” was similar.
“There are a lot of differences,” said Sen. John Mulroe of Chicago’s Northwest Side. “We’re going to all come together and find out there’s a lot more similarities than differences and there’s a lot more good people out there than bad.”
“This is a unique opportunity,” said Sen. Elgie Sims of Chicago. “We’re going to have some tough conversations.”
“This is a unique opportunity. … We’re going to have some tough conversations.”
Sen. Elgie Sims (Blue Room Stream)
Sims said it was about finding “common ground” through “candid conversations” to reach “mutual respect and trust between communities and law enforcement.” He emphasized it should help some elements on both sides recognize not all cops are “bad actors,” while certain communities are not “filled with suspects,” saying, “This will improve law enforcement and community relations statewide.”
Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said that, while steps would be taken to ensure the safety of both politicians and officers, the intention is to make the experience authentic. “We want them to see what we see as much as possible,” he said. “We’d love for them to be out on a traffic stop, and be able to understand that feeling of walking up to a car and not knowing who’s driving it, not knowing what’s going on in the backseat.
“So we want to get them out of the car in the middle of the action as much as we can,” Campbell added.
According to Kaitschuk, it’s similar to a program run by the Illinois Farm Bureau to get legislators from across the state to understand the needs and challenges of farmers.
“As legislators,” Mulroe said, “we are going to be able to walk in police officers’ shoes so we can better understand the challenges that they face.”
Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said, “I think we’ll have an opportunity to trust each other, get honest answers to what it takes to police a free society, from the north end of the state to the south end of the state.”