Gov. Pat Quinn on July 24 signed into law a bill that allows police to forgo judicial review before being granted permission to eavesdrop on subjects who are the targets of a drug investigation.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, who has helped push the legislation for the past 14 years through the West Suburban Chiefs of Police, called the passage of the law “a major achievement for the safety of undercover narcotics officers.”
The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Presently, police who wish to eavesdrop on suspected drug offenders have to receive a signed order from a judge. Under the new law, police will be able to go ahead with the eavesdropping measures if they receive verbal permission from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes suspected offenders. The state’s attorney can grant the approval if he feels there is “reasonable cause” to do so.
The law is an exemption to state law, which requires both parties of a conversation to consent to being recorded. It passed the Senate by a vote of 42-14, with local senators Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) and Ron Sandack (R-21st) voting for it and Steve Landek (D-11th) voting against it.
The House passed the bill 99-12, with chief co-sponsor Mike Zalewski (R-23rd) and Chris Nybo (R-41st), voting for the measure. State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) voted against it. For the first time since it was introduced more than a decade ago, the bill received the support of House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Until 2012, the eavesdropping bill has gotten nowhere in the state legislature. In March 2011 Zalewski, a Riverside resident, introduced a bill almost identical to the one passed by both houses in 2012. It died in the rules committee.
Asked why he thought the bill gained traction this time around, Zalewski said that increased crime in the suburbs and downstate may have played a role, along with the bill’s narrow parameters.
“Because it’s an exception to the eavesdropping statute, there’s always been a great deal of caution,” said Zalewski. “Ultimately, the advocates were able to prevail upon enough of my colleagues that this was a narrowly tailored, effective bill that was necessary, given some of the increase in crime we are seeing, especially in some of the western suburbs and downstate.”
Weitzel indicated that support for the bill might also trigger support for a bill allowing citizens to record police officers who are performing their public duties in a public place. Right now, that practice is not allowed under the state’s two-party consent law.
State Sen. Mike Noland (D-22nd) in May introduced the legislation as an amendment to an unrelated law enforcement bill.
If that legislation moves forward, Weitzel said he would not be opposed to it “as long as those recording police “are not obstructing” the officers.
“I think that bill will move now,” Weitzel said.
Zalewski said he expects the bill to come up again in the fall. Because some Illinois judges have ruled the law unconstitutional, Zalewski called the current situation “untenable.”