Column: State of Illinois should fix police training funding problem NOW

You may have seen that we recently alerted the public to a very serious concern with funding law enforcement training in the State of Illinois. Without intervention by the Illinois legislature, the responsibility for paying for law enforcement training will be shifted from minor traffic offenses and criminals convicted of more serious crimes paying for this training to, instead, Illinois taxpayers picking up the tab as part of a bigger progressive push to hold criminals less accountable for their actions.

In past years, the sole source of training funding for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training & Standards Board (ILETSB), the Board responsible for law enforcement training in Illinois, was revenue from the Illinois Traffic & Criminal Conviction Surcharge Fund. Revenue from every traffic ticket and criminal conviction fee issued in Illinois provided funding for police training. That funding pooled together in the surcharge fund and was then distributed to ILETSB to manage law enforcement training through 15 regional Mobile Training Units (MTUs).

However, in 2018 the General Assembly passed the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act, which became law in July 2019, over the objection of groups like ILETSB. This law provided a new fee structure assessment process, which gave additional discretion to judges on whether to levy fees and fines to defendants. Of course, with the progressive nature of our judiciary, this yielded a 16% reduction in ILETSB revenue statewide this fiscal year with perhaps even more negative impact moving into the next fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2021 begins July 1, 2020).

This drop in funding affects law enforcement training in two important ways. The first is that local taxpayers, through their police and sheriffs’ departments budgets, are being expected to pick up the tab for training. The training costs, which were not budgeted by local governments, runs over $6,000 for a new deputy/police officer and $3,500 for a new correctional officer. The second impact to law enforcement training is the reduced capacity for ILETSB and the Mobile Training Units to pay instructors to teach these courses to officers in training. This problem has also already yielded class cancellations as a result. That means, even if local departments can come up with the funding, there may not be instructors to teach it.

Some of the topics mandated by the State in these law enforcement trainings for both new and veteran law enforcement officers include use of force, sexual assault trauma training, domestic violence training, child abuse response and reporting training, mental health training, human rights training and other important topics. We believe well-trained officers keep us safer.

Fundamentally, this also resulted in a shift to who pays for law enforcement training. Previously this fund did not rely on taxpayers, but rather offenders paying penalties on their crimes or violations. Now, taxpayers are expected to make up this funding, if we want properly trained officers protecting the public. That’s unacceptable. This progressive criminal justice theme has not just played out in fee reform, but in new efforts to end cash bail, release known violent illegal immigrant felons instead of holding them for federal authorities, and an effort to eliminate firearm penalty enhancements on violent crimes, all proposed in follow-up this Spring to the “successful” Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act.

To that end, we are supporting restoration of a fee structure putting the responsibility for funding police training on offenders instead of taxpayers, and properly funding police training in the interim until that fee structure may be restored. Senate Bill 3739 is co-sponsored by Senator Brian Stewart in the Senate and has been pre-filed as a Chesney bill in the Illinois House. The legislation would put appropriate funding into police training for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020.

This only gets fixed if enough Illinoisans can convince their legislature to fix this problem it created. Under many of these new “reforms” society is paying the penalty for crime instead of criminals repaying society for their crimes. Here’s hoping we can all agree to keep politics out of this issue and commit to funding proper training for our law enforcement officers throughout Illinois. Public safety demands it.

Photo: State Representative Andrew Chesney & Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders


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