SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul advocated for a new state licensing program to register local law enforcement officers in an interview that aired Sunday on Capitol Connection.
Raoul, the state’s top legal officer, said a statewide licensing program would instill a “greater fear of consequence” to serve as a deterrent to prevent police abuses of power.
“I think the vast majority of law enforcement officers are quite frankly pissed off that they all get painted with a bad, broad brush,” Raoul said, adding that a state licensing program is “in the interest of preserving the reputation of law enforcement in general and lifting up the trust of the public and police officers.”
Raoul credited his former colleague Tim Bivins, a former Republican state Senator and Lee County Sheriff, with coming up with the proposal to license local law enforcement officers years ago, although the proposal was left out of a package of reforms that became law.
“I don’t agree with those who say we should just get rid of police officers,” he said. “I don’t agree with those who have been throwing stuff at police officers, or who have lit a police department on fire, or destroyed police cars, or rammed their car into a police car, or done other harm to police officers, because these are men and women who go out every day and put themselves on the line in the interest of public safety. So it’s on behalf of them that I propose this to create a consequence and a deterrence to the bad officer that gives them all, unfortunately, a bad name.”
Raoul was less eager to lend his support to other police reform ideas, such as banning no-knock warrants.
“I can imagine there are certain circumstances where there’s exigent circumstances where — whether it is undercover knowledge of something going on in a particular location that — where you wouldn’t want to knock.”
He also declined to weigh in on an ongoing debate in Congress about qualified immunity, the legal shield that protects individual police officers from facing damages in court for civil or constitutional violations.
Raoul also authored a letter to Congress asking for power to open investigations into the pattern and practices of individual police departments, a tool that is currently reserved for the U.S. Department of Justice. He said that process could “force conversations and change actions that otherwise were not happening.”
Raoul said he disagreed with calls to defund or dismantle police departments, but said he appreciated the activists who marched for change.
“The first thing I would say is ‘thank you,'” he said when asked how he would respond to activists who have called to dismantle police departments. He said those cries forced a legitimate conversation about how to approach public safety.
“Not that I agree with calls to eliminate police; I don’t,” he said. But added, “I have evolved in my reaction to those calls, because initially, honestly, my reaction was ‘Oh, come on. That’s crazy. We can’t even engage in that discussion.’
“But what that discussion, as I’ve allowed myself to have a little bit more patience with those calls, it does raise the valid question of, ‘can you really fix this problem by tinkering here and there?’ Or, ‘do we need to completely reimagine what the operation of public safety is like?'”