Police departments across Illinois say the state budget stalemate has left them struggling to provide necessary training to officers on everything from how to deal with the mentally ill to proper use of force.
Hundreds of classes are being canceled at a time of heightened tension between police and the communities they serve, and as officers are increasingly the first to respond when a person with a mental illness is in crisis, law enforcement officials say.
It’s also happening just months after lawmakers approved a bill requiring additional law enforcement training — part of a response to fatal police encounters in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and Baltimore.
“The situation is becoming desperate,” said Eric Pingolt, who coordinates training in 11 counties for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
Here’s a closer look at the issue:
IMPACT OF CUTS
In 2014, the state-funded training and standards board provided training to more 57,000 officers, said Sean Smoot, director and chief legal counsel for the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois. The training ranges from legal updates and classes on civil and human rights to certifications for officers to become lead homicide investigators.
Much of the training is conducted by one of 14 mobile units such as the one Pingolt leads in western and central Illinois.
He said his unit provided about 12,700 hours of training through 189 courses during the previous fiscal year, which spanned from July 2014 through June 2015. During that time they had to cancel 14 classes.
In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, the unit has conducted 29 courses for a total of about 1,500 hours and canceled 10 classes. But that work is being paid for with reserve funds that will run out by the end of November.
“After that we close the doors,” Pingolt said.
Many departments get the bulk of their training from the standards board, though some offer their own courses as well.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he’s had to cut a program that trained officers in how to identify, approach and work with people suffering from mental illness.
Too often, Dart said, those people end up in jail — often for a petty offense — rather than being placed into a medical system where they can get the help they need. The training helped officers divert those people into the mental health system, where the cost is about one-third of what it takes to house the person at the jail.
Dart said Cook County had the crisis intervention training courses scheduled for the remainder of the year, but had to cancel them because there’s no money.
“This is the most effective way throughout the country and in this state to deal with this horrific issue and now our hands are being tied,” Dart said.
The roughly $16 million allocated annually by the state for training comes from fines paid on traffic tickets and other convictions.
But the training and standards board can’t access this year’s funds because the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner haven’t agreed on a budget.
“The money’s there. It’s just not being passed through to the training board,” Smoot said.
The law enforcement officials testified last week at an Illinois House hearing in Springfield. It was the latest hearing arranged by Democrats to draw attention to problems caused by the lack of a state budget.
Democrats are trying to pressure Rauner and other Republicans to sign off on a tax increase to help close a multibillion-dollar deficit. Rauner says he first wants the Legislature to approve measures to help businesses and curb the power of public-worker unions.
Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, chairman of the House human services appropriations committee, is pushing legislation to authorize spending for the training, as well as for community mental health centers and other programs.
GOP Rep. Ron Sandack agreed the programs need to be funded. But he said it should be done as part of an overall budget, not in a piecemeal approach, because the state is on track to spend billions more than it’s taking in.
Rauner’s office said in an emailed statement that the General Assembly should focus on passing “a truly balanced budget.”