A police officer attempts to pull over a driver for running a red light. The driver knows there are drugs in the car and if caught may be charged with drug possession, a crime that carries up to 15 years in prison. Aware of the local police department’s strict pursuit policies preventing officers from giving chase at high rates of speed, the driver doesn’t stop and instead takes off – exceeding 100 mph. Sure, the driver knows they could be charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding, but the sentence and penalties will be significantly lower than if they had been caught with the drugs – only facing 1-3 years of prison instead of 15.
This is a scenario that has been playing out across Illinois with frightening frequency. Only, more often than not it ends with innocent bystanders being hurt or killed.
Chiefs of the police from around the state have called attention to the significant uptick in the number of incidences of people fleeing and eluding police. They are urging the General Assembly to take up the growing safety issue and rethink the penalties on convictions for aggravated fleeing and eluding convictions. The chiefs believe that boosting the penalties will make suspects think twice before attempting to flee police because the stakes will be higher. Instead of the lower punishment, they will be facing much longer sentences if convicted.
Illinois State Representative Amy Elik has taken up the issue and introduced legislation this week that would enhance the penalties on those convicted of aggravated fleeing and eluding. HB 4585 increases the penalty for any person convicted of a first offense of aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer from the lower Class 4 felony to a Class 2 felony. Additionally, any person convicted of a second or subsequent offense of aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer is guilty of the higher Class 1 felony instead of a Class 3 felony.
“Police Chiefs and Sheriffs from across the state have identified fleeing and eluding as a growing trend that is threatening the safety of Illinois residents,” Elik explains. “It is our responsibility to act on those concerns and bring solutions to the table.”
Represenative Elik first learned of the issue from South Roxana Police Chief Bob Coles who doesn’t think the current penalties for aggravated fleeing and eluding are enough of a deterrent. In a recent news account, Chief Coles expressed his frustration, “If you’re a criminal, why not try and get away, because the consequences of getting caught are more serious than fleeing in the first place.” Coles goes on to say, “The drivers also know the more dangerous they drive and more risk they present to the community, the less likely police will pursue after them.”
Coles is not alone.
Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns highlighted the growing trend of drivers fleeing police, which oftentimes result in property damage and injuries to the suspects, officers and/or innocent bystanders. According to Kuhns, the number of people fleeing law enforcement in his county was up 106% in 2021 from 2020.
The Kane County Sheriff’s office also reported a notable increase in the number of people disregarding police attempts to pull them over for a traffic violation. In 2020, the incidents of fleeing and eluding doubled in Kane County.
The trend is the same in Springfield, where Deputy Chief Joshua Stuenkel of the Springfield Police Department and other law enforcement officials believe that suspects are aware of the strict policies on vehicle pursuit implemented by law enforcement agencies and are taking full advantage to elude police.
Based on input from constituents and law enforcement officials, Representative Elik has introduced a solid piece of legislation designed to improve public safety. Those interested in the issue can follow HB 4585 through the process.
As Illinois grapples with a surge of violent crime, lawmakers have to step up like Representative Elik has to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to keep Illinoisans safe.