Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, frustrated with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s directive that prosecutors decline felony charges for any retail theft under $1,000 unless the offender has 10 prior convictions, has offered up a compromise he hopes she will consider.

In a Feb. 15 letter to Foxx, Weitzel along with Orland Park Police Chief Timothy McCarthy and Wilmette Police Chief Brian King asked that Foxx reduce the felony threshold for retail theft to $750 or two prior convictions.

The three chiefs, representing three separate police chiefs’ associations in suburban Chicago, argued that the compromise “would better serve our communities and the retail communities and businesses in our suburban jurisdictions.”

Foxx’s order on retail theft prosecutions was her first major policy announcement after taking the oath of office late in 2016. Underlying the change were Foxx’s stated goals of prioritizing prosecution of violent crime and lowering the number of people jailed for retail theft, who tend to be, a Cook County Sheriff’s spokeswoman told DNAinfo last December, “often homeless, mentally ill or suffering from addiction.”

The law in Illinois holds that felony enhancement can be sought for retail thefts greater than $500, and other counties in the state continue to operate according to that statute, said Weitzel.

“My concern is that it’s a slippery slope,” said Weitzel of Foxx’s decision to implement the retail theft policy. “Every other county is prosecuting under Illinois statute, but we’re not going to do that? If you don’t like the law, go to Springfield and get the law changed. The laws on the books are the ones police are obligated to enforce.”

Weitzel also complained that local law enforcement leaders weren’t consulted prior to the policy being announced and weren’t asked for input on the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, issued in 2016.

“We’re being given these mandates and interpretations of statutes, but they’re seeking no input from us,” Weitzel said. “None.”

Weitzel first wrote Foxx about his concerns over the retail theft policy in mid-December 2016, decrying what he called “cafeteria enforcement and prosecution in Cook County.”

Foxx responded by meeting with the South Suburban Police Chiefs Association on Jan. 19, where she answered questions.

Also in January, Weitzel wrote Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to express his disappointment at local police chiefs not having input on the state commission on criminal justice and sentencing reform.

“The report has some very disconcerting recommendations that are, in my opinion, ‘just empty the jails and prison’ types of reform and justice,” Weitzel wrote. “There is no reform by just letting convicted felons out early on alternative sentencing or, in some cases, not even sending them through the penal system to avoid, what I would characterize as reducing numbers overall.”

Instead, Weitzel argued, the state should “invest in social service programs and early education. This type of funding would be far better spent on young children for preventative and educational programs than individuals already convicted and in the prison system.”

Wrong-way driving bill pushed by Riverside chief, rep

Legislation that would stiffen jail sentences for motorists convicted of causing a crash while impaired and driving the wrong way down a one-way road has been passed in the Illinois House and will now be considered by the Senate.

House Bill 303's sponsor is Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), who credits Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel with proposing the law. Weitzel said in a press release that the impetus for the legislation came at the urging of the mother of off-duty Chicago Ridge Police Officer Steven Smith, who Weitzel says was "murdered" in a wrong-way, head-on crash on the Tri-State Tollway in 2015 by a drunken driver. Smith was a passenger in the car.

"Officer Steven Smith of the Chicago Ridge Police department while off duty was, in fact, murdered," Weitzel said. "It is time we as a society recognize the seriousness of drunk and drugged driving."

Weitzel said the intent of the legislation was to make sure judges consider the wrong-way driving as an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing motorists convicted of a DUI crash that kills someone.

The proposed legislation on March 1 was assigned to the Senate assignments committee after a first reading that day. The chief Senate sponsor of the legislation is Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park).

— Bob Uphues