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Kane County State's Attorney's overview touches on marijuana legalization

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon

ST. CHARLES – An update on crisis intervention team training, results of a no-refusal night to curtail drunken driving and lobbying for public safety if the Illinois Legislature legalizes recreational marijuana were discussed by Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon at his monthly media briefing. Also touched on were the merits of body cameras, as well as his office’s use of funds from asset forfeiture.

The night before Thanksgiving was the 22nd no-refusal night since the office began the program in 2008. Thirteen law enforcement agencies participated between 11 p.m. Nov. 22 and 3 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, resulting in five arrests, McMahon said. In two instances, search warrants had to be issued to get drivers to comply and provide blood samples.

The goal is to encourage safety on the roads, which is one of the reasons the office tries to give as much notice of the initiatives as possible, McMahon said, about trying to prompt people to make alternative transportation arrangements, such as using taxis, an Uber-style service or a designated driver.

“Ten, 15 or 20 years ago, there weren’t as many transportation options,” he said. “I’m hopeful that will gain traction, and someday we’ll reach our goal of zero arrests on those nights.”

As the state’s attorney’s office prepares to compile end-of-year statistics, McMahon noted an increase in felony filings.

“There has been a lot of pressure to reduce staff from the County Board,” he said. “We continue to look for ways to be efficient and drive efficiencies. Our responsibility here is public safety – to carry that out in a way that is financially [responsible] with taxpayer dollars. As our population continues to go up, the demand on services goes up with it. Our needs for additional personnel will increase.”

McMahon said that some of the country’s law enforcement agencies are discontinuing the use of body cameras because of cost.

“I continue to be a supporter of body cameras,” he said. “I think they’re good for police departments and good for the community. [They] help us evaluate our cases, and they help judges and juries make decisions in criminal cases. I’m hopeful that body cameras will grow in popularity. With that, the acquisition cost [could] come down as more departments are using them.”

McMahon said his office spent about $34,000 generated by forfeited assets primarily related to Kane County drug cases, monies his office had received from the equitable sharing program run by the Department of Justice. The funds were used to buy new furniture and equipment in his department and included improved working spaces in a trial workroom for lawyers.

He said the assets acquired had all gone through the judicial process, and no taxpayer dollars were used.

The second session of CIT training was conducted Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 at Elgin Community College’s training facility in Burlington. The program provides officers with tools to better respond to someone they encounter who is having a mental health crisis, enabling them to de-escalate the situation.

“We partnered with Sheriff Don Kramer to put on this training,” McMahon said, noting that 24 officers from 12 departments enrolled, including four corrections officers.

“Corrections officers [often] have to deal with situations that involve a mental health episode,” McMahon said.

The goal is a better outcome for both the offender and the corrections or police officer, McMahon said of the training.

“[It] will save people’s lives in the community and will protect police department officers by giving them the skills and the tools that they need to safely treat members of our community whom we need to take care of as well,” he said. “There is money in the budget for 2018. We thank the County Board. Our goal is to have four additional training [sessions] in 2018.”

The next one tentatively will be held in late February or early March.

The evaluation of the program curriculum and its varied presenters by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board is nearing completion, and feedback indicates final certification is expected from the board, said McMahon and Assistant State’s Attorney Kaitlin Kerstetter, who ran lead on the project.

She said the latest session fine-tuned the sections on de-escalation and interacting with military veterans and the elderly.

For the latter, Kerstetter said they brought an Aurora University professor on board who teaches in the sociology department and focuses on elder sociology, working heavily with nursing homes.

Because of the inclusion of corrections officers, role-playing scenarios with professional actors were specially tailored for them.

As the question of decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana is weighed in the Illinois General Assembly, McMahon said two state senators, Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, and Heather Steans, D-Chicago, recently met with him. McMahon is on record against legalization, citing, in part, a threat to public safety on the roads.

He and the legislators discussed providing funding for police departments to conduct testing for people suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana if it is legalized. A different testing device is required for determining THC levels from marijuana in someone’s system, which can’t be detected through the breath, McMahon said. That entails training of officers to use the equipment.

“If somebody is impaired and under the influence of marijuana that will continue to be a criminal offense,” McMahon said, calling the discussion with Holmes and Steans a great dialogue with many areas of common agreement about safety.

“If it’s the policy to have legalized marijuana, I’m pleased to hear that they are going about this in a way that is at least considering how they would … ensure that public safety is addressed on our roads and in our community and how to keep that substance out of the hands of minors. I appreciate that they are going about this in a very deliberative way.”

He worries that an attitude that it’s OK to be a little high on marijuana and still drive will counter the progress made in fighting drunken driving over the years.

“If the Illinois General Assembly is going to make a policy decision to legalize marijuana and that it in some people’s view will generate a significant amount of new revenue, some of that revenue should be used to offset the expense that law enforcement will incur,” McMahon said.

Citing legalization in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California, he said Illinois will have the benefit of their experience.

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