Higby, VanVickle react to state of police reform changes

Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle.

‘A wholesale change of what we do is a concern’

ROCHELLE — State lawmakers passed a follow-up criminal justice bill last week that remedied some police concerns following House Bill 3653, which was signed into law on Feb. 22. 

House Bill 3653 included eliminating cash bail within two years, allowing the use of deadly force only when an officer acts in self defense or defending others from bodily harm, making it easier to decertify officers by eliminating signed affidavits of complaint and mandating the use of police body cameras for all officers by 2025.

Both Rochelle Police Chief Eric Higby and Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle were against HB 3653. The recent trailer bill (HB 3443) relaxed rules around body cameras, removed some use-of-force restriction language and extended deadlines for new training standards.

HB 3443 was the first trailer bill following HB 3653. VanVickle believes it won't be the last. The sheriff has testified in front of lawmakers about various changes and said he spent all of Memorial Day weekend on conference calls concerning them. 

“It was a good discussion,” VanVickle said. “A myriad of topics have yet to be addressed. We focused on being able to review our own body camera footage. That was contentious. And some of the decertification issues associated with inaccurate police reports due to not being able to review body camera footage.”

The charges of obstructing and resisting arrest were separated in the trailer bill. Previously, an underlying offense was required to arrest someone for obstruction, Higby said. 

“That’s been rectified and that’s good,” Higby said. “If we had a crime scene roped off and someone came in and messed with it, we wouldn’t have been able to stop them or charge them.”

Additional training and preparation for new practices was pushed back to Jan. 1 rather than July 1. VanVickle and Higby said changes so far in their stations have been nonexistent due to knowing a trailer bill was coming. 

Higby said his department hasn’t received any syllabi or notice of classes for training, which need to be approved by a board.

Both RPD and the Sheriff’s office are in the later years of the body camera requirement. The requirement to have all officers wear body cameras is based on population. Rochelle would start in 2025 and the county would in 2024. 

“We’re trying to figure out how to financially do these things,” VanVickle said. “Rockford just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on body cameras.” 

Higby said the cameras will be a “major” expense and he wants that addressed. There is a $1 million grant out there for body cameras right now, but he said that money would likely not support the whole state. There’s a lot of additional costs associated with the cameras such as editing footage to blur out faces of those not involved in the police event, Higby said. He called the issue of body cameras “cumbersome.”

Higby expects more changes to happen this fall. The biggest issue in his mind is qualified immunity for officers going away, which was part of HB 3653. 

“Essentially, qualified immunity protects us,” Higby said. “If we’re doing the right things, we’re protected civilly and personally. If you’re doing something wrong, it’s not absolute immunity. I don’t see a reason for it to go away. It would be frivolous lawsuits. I don’t know who would do this job if that happened.”

Both Higby and VanVickle have concerns about their officers’ desire to do the job after the planned changes take effect. They’ve spent time communicating with them about the changes and have kept them informed. 

Higby believes those officers eligible for retirement would do so without qualified immunity and if they were open to “frivolous lawsuits.” VanVickle has tried to reassure his deputies. 

“I told them after this came out not to worry about retiring or leaving,” VanVickle said. “We’re still going to be able to do our jobs. We always have supported our deputies. We get them the best training and equipment possible. My priority is the people of this county first and then our deputies. We will continue that support.”

Higby doesn’t believe a “one-size-fits-all” bill will work for Illinois. He said policing in Chicago is far too different than it is in Rochelle. But he’s happy to see progress with the trailer bill. 

“There is an open dialogue now and good communication,” Higby said. “It’s unfortunate that it didn't happen sooner and we’re correcting things that have already been done. But I’m glad things are this way now.”

VanVickle testified in January that he isn’t opposed to modernization of policing. 

“But a wholesale change of what we do is a concern,” VanVickle said. “Throwing everything out is inappropriate.”

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