Riverside chief is wrong on bail policy

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By Kevin F. Smith

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Policing is difficult, challenging work; and I have only the utmost of respect for individuals who choose public service as their life's vocation. The Riverside police department does a great job of serving our community.

But when I read headlines like: "Suburban Police Chief -- Cook County 'bond reform is not protecting our citizens'" (Crime In Boystown, 1/7/18), "Riverside chief slams county courts' bail policy" (RB Landmark, 1/2/18) and "Riverside police chief blasts county official's statement on jail" (Lagrange Patch, 1/10/18) -- I get very concerned that Chief Weitzel is talking politics rather than law and the constitution. 

I was on the Riverside Board of Trustees when Chief Weitzel was promoted to his current position; in fact, I stood next to him when he took his oath of office. Therefore, I feel I have a responsibility to the community to speak up when I think a line is being crossed. 

Chief Weitzel is the de facto public face of our village. Chief Weitzel's recent comments and his ongoing battle with the judiciary make Riverside look like a backwater fiefdom lorded by a Sheriff Joe wannabe. 

It is the current fashion in certain circles to denigrate the judiciary – summary judgment would be preferable to due process. The powerful feel they should be able to just will their adversaries into unending custody. This view is antithetical to the foundation and history of our country.

The right to be admitted to bail is included in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights (and the Illinois Constitution) for a very important reason – to protect the general citizenry from arbitrary and excessive detention by the state. 

A good arrest provides the basis for probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence appears to rankle Chief Weitzel – he seems to prefer that there should be a presumption of guilt.

Nationally, for the last 40 years, the constitutional bail has been subsumed to the Reagan-era concept of preventative detention. The general theory being that if enough young, primarily minority, males could be locked up for a long enough period of time, society as a whole would somehow be "safer." Sounds an awful like the Chief's rationale for setting prohibitive bail.

Chief Weitzel is quoted in Crime In Boystown as saying that his 33 years in law enforcement empowers him to speak "the truth." My memory is longer. I remember the exact day that bail in Cook County morphed into "preventative detention." It was April Fools' Day 1978, when Hernando Williams was arrested for killing Linda Goldstone. 

Mr. Williams had been out on bond for a 4th District (Maybrook) case at the time of the murder. It also ushered in the Era of Burge, whose "stormtrooper" policing (to borrow a phrase from Chief Weitzel) is still costing taxpayers millions of dollars 35 years later. 

Bail has been used for preventative detention Chief Weitzel's entire career. His career is not long enough for him to "know" the truth he would like to speak.

Chief Weitzel's prediction that "once police officers feel that there is no method for offenders being held responsible for their actions, and that includes setting proper bonds, police officers' self-initiated activity will plummet, and crime will rise exponentially" is alarmist balderdash. 

I don't believe for a second that a professional peace officer would stop following his/her oath because the fundamentals of that oath are adhered to. There will be no "exponential" rise in crime if non-violent individuals are admitted to a reasonable bond. 

Chief Weitzel implies that preventative detention is a pre-requisite for holding "offenders" "responsible for their actions." An arrest is the beginning, not the end, of the criminal justice juggernaut. The "end," which is judicial, determines who is an "offender" and, if so, how they will be held "responsible." 

The appropriate response to Chief Weitzel's hypothetical is educating officers to the history and process of setting bond. Don't sell them short. Rather than trying to arrest the pendulum of history, seize the opportunity. 

Setting bond is an art, not a science. The judiciary should be applauded for tackling a difficult task, rather than embracing the one-size-fits-all approach of preventative detention. 

Chief Weitzel may feel that the state's attorney, the sheriff and the chief judge are making a purely financial decision. But, setting aside the fact that they were elected and he is but an employee, taxpayers bear the cost of both preventative detention and the chief's salary. 

However, the monetary cost to taxpayers pales when compared to the multi-leveled "cost" of preventative detention to its "victims" – families and the broader social fabric are torn apart. Now, there's an "exponentially" negative aggravator.

Chief Weitzel may be frustrated, but he should voice his concerns through appropriate channels, not publicly. He may don many hats, but he always wears the uniform of the village of Riverside.

Kevin F. Smith is a Riverside resident, former, Riverside village trustee and retired attorney supervisor for the Office of the Cook County Public Defender..

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Howard Brundage  

Posted: January 17th, 2018 3:47 PM

Well put, Trustee Smith. Beyond the bond issue, it's clear that the chief loves to see himself in the news, so much so, that anyone in our media market must think that Riverside is crime-ridden. He promotes himself, at the expense of the reputation of the village.

Bridget Doherty from Riverside   

Posted: January 16th, 2018 6:06 PM

Thank you for writing this. You have so eloquently communicated the thoughts I, too, had in reading the original article. Thank you for calling attention to a very broad range of concerns that we as a Village, and also as privileged Americans, need to better examine and address.

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