Fate of Law Enforcement Gang Database Acts up in the air
SB275, also known as the Law Enforcement Gang Database Act, passed the Senate with a vote of 30-19 on May 31, but then was left to linger as Illinois' spring legislative session came to an end.
Sponsored by Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago), SB275 would ensure that law enforcement cannot distribute any related information or names on the list for housing, education, licensing purposes or employment, exceptive for people who apply for jobs in law enforcement.
“There are over 400,000 (people) listed on the Strategic Subjects List and 252,000 have never been arrested, but yet when they apply for jobs, many of them are finding [that] their background checks are showing they are gang affiliated,” Van Pelt said.
Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) had issues with the bill, however.
Noting how the bill's disclosure provisions would affect law enforcement in his district and around the state, he questioned the words “but not limited to.”
“Eyebrows always pop up when I read that because often that means whatever came before that is completely irrelevant,” Righter said.
Van Pelt said the information in the database is not corroborated and can include simply coming late into school as a reason to be listed on the gang affiliation list.
“A young man came into high school late and instead of giving him detention, he ended up on the gang database, and he is not involved in a gang and got arrested for something that he didn’t commit,” she said.
Individuals who have been shot are listed on the gang database, according to Van Pelt, who noted that there is no reason for that to happen.
“Next year, I am going to come back with a bill that really addresses the criteria for getting people on the database,” Van Pelt said. “But we are going to do a study before that happens.”
In Garfield alone, more than 73 percent of African-American males are on the list, she said, adding that it is not possible that nearly all the 11- and 12-year-old boys in the area are affiliated with gangs.
Righter, however, questioned the mandated purging process included in her bill, noting that although he understands the reason to remove names that are not relevant, he is cautious.
“I think we should be very wary of attempts to manage internally for law enforcement what their criteria should be,” Righter said.
He concluded by saying that as a former prosecutor, he does not want those who are aware they are on the list to know about it. However, Sen. Chris Nybo (R-Lombard) felt otherwise and brought the Senate floor’s attention to the discussions he had with Van Pelt, who said she was sorry to “hear that her partner over here from Mattoon wants everybody to stay on the database.”
Nybo said Van Pelt’s work on the bill is obvious.
“It has substantially changed from where it was, and a lot of people in this chamber may not have a recollection of that,” Nybo said, adding that her efforts are commendable. “I will support this measure… and to my friends over here, I would encourage them to keep as open as a mind as possible.”
Editor's Note: This story was revised after publication to correct inaccurate information.