State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), whose district currently includes a portion of Forest Park south of Roosevelt Road, met with village commissioners and public safety officials on the morning of Sept. 26 to discuss bail reform and village-specific safety concerns. 

Ford, who has co-chaired the State Public Safety and Violence Task Force, is holding several meetings throughout the suburbs to get a better sense of what kind of safety concerns they face. Forest Park officials said they’ve been struggling to respond to emergency calls related to the Forest Park Blue Line CTA terminal and to rowdy funerals. Officials also discussed manpower issues and the expense of providing ambulance services to the uninsured. Ford said he would push for legislation to make it easier for villages to get Medicaid reimbursements and reach out to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to see if he could help on the manpower side.

The officials also spent much of the meeting discussing the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act, which will do away with cash bail effective Jan. 1, 2023. Instead, judges would have to decide whether to release people awaiting trial based on certain risk factors. While Ford said he had his own concerns about the particulars, he believed that, overall, the system was fairer, since it took money out of the equation.

Aside from Ford, all four commissioners, Mayor Rory Hoskins, Police Chief Ken Gross and Fire Chief Phil Chiappetta attended the meeting. Village Administrator Moses Amidei said that, because there were more than two elected officials gathering in one place, they held the meeting in a public meeting format.

Gross said “some of [their] biggest challenges” are responding to calls from the three CTA stations that serve the village, especially the Forest Park Blue Line terminal. He mentioned mental health crises, drug use and drug overdoses as major reasons for the calls. Chiappetta said about half of the individuals involved in those calls are homeless, and many of the homeless individuals use CTA trains as shelter. 

He said around 30% of all ambulance calls are to transport patients from the terminal. Since his department only has one ambulance, this ties the vehicle up when other emergencies happen. If the patients don’t have Medicaid or private health insurance, the department is stuck with the bill, which is around $2,000 per call. 

“We are on pace to 454 calls [by the end of the year],” Chiappetta said.

Ford said that given Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, the best approach may be to get uninsured individuals on Medicaid, which would pay the ambulance bills. Chiappetta responded this would still leave individuals who leave a hospital without sharing any identifying information, as well as patients who die and couldn’t be identified afterword.

After some discussion, the officials floated the idea of changing the law to allow the villages to be paid through Medicaid for ambulance service for individuals who can’t be identified, with Hoskins suggesting this would only apply to municipalities that have transit stations, and that municipalities would need to prove that the individuals in question did exist. Ford said he would be willing to pursue legislation to this effect – and suggested that Forest Park could get Chicago’s help with lobbying for it.

“Chicago would say — well, we see it all the time, we’d love to get reimbursed,” he said.

Aside from Chicago and Forest Park, CTA serves six suburbs. Cicero and Skokie have two stations, Oak Park and Evanston have seven, and Wilmette and Rosemont have one. 

Ford said he would like to try to get something in by the upcoming veto session.

The officials also discussed working with other entities to improve security. Ford suggested that he and Hoskins should reach out to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart first.

“We will take all the help we can get,” responded Gross.

Turning to rowdy funerals, Gross said Forest Park struggled to respond to the issue. While some funeral homes alert them of funerals for gunshot victims – which are more likely to turn rowdy – others don’t. While they pulled over drivers in the past, they found it only escalates the situation. 

“I’m a firm believer in bringing our resources together,” said Ford. “You shouldn’t have to do it by yourself. If it’s funeral coming from the City of Chicago, Chicago should help you. We have to figure out how we can coordinate our law enforcement to help those cases.”

Commissioner Joe Byrnes suggested requiring funeral processions to put up a surety bond. If the funeral procession gets out of control, they would forfeit the money. Ford also suggested having the family pay the police to provide security. 

Bail Reform

The Pretrial Fairness Act, the bail reform portion of the SAFE-T Act, will replace cash bail with a system where the person is either released, released with conditions and/or restrictions or kept in jail until trial based on how much risk they pose to the community. Ford argued that it would be a fairer arrangement.

“Come January, [judges will] have two options – to keep you locked up or let you go, regardless of your ability to pay,” he said.” I think that’s going to make us safer.”

Ford added that he was worried that the judges’ racial biases may affect the decisions.

“Me, as a Black man, I could tell you — I would be afraid of a no-bail system based on the courts and the way the courts make trial decisions [about] Black men,” he said. “Are they not going to look at risk factors or are they going to lock me up?”

However, he said he wouldn’t support doing away with the bail reform altogether.

“We have time to make amendments to the act before it goes into effect in January,” he said. “Just for the record, there will be no repeal, but I think there is an acknowledgement that we need to do something to improve the SAFE-T Act.”

Gross said he was worried about the particulars of issuing warrants against people who don’t show up in court, as well as the state of electronic monitoring. While he said he supports it in principle, he believed that there are currently no real consequences for violating the terms of the i-bond, and worried that it would get worse with the bail reform.

Ford responded that it was a valid concern, and something the legislation may need to work on.

“They won’t get released, because they’re a risk,” he said. “I think we need to do everything to make sure we implement the law right.”

Chiappetta asked why the legislators were only now trying to fix issues with the bail reform.

“Why didn’t you guys look at both sides of these before you passed it, instead of backtracking and asking people [about their concerns]?” he said.

Ford said passage of the SAFE-T Act forced law enforcement to offer compromises instead of stonewalling – which, he said, they did at first.

“If we didn’t pass something, we wouldn’t have gotten anything from law enforcement,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gotten a serious conversation.”

Ford’s remarks on the justice system led the only resident in the audience – who declined to give the Review her name – to ask what he was basing that on. He responded that there are studies that show racial biases and asked her whether she believes that the justice system would treat her and his chief of staff, who is Black, the same if they were charged with the same crimes.

“I don’t know,” the woman responded.

Ford said that it was important to have those conversations. 

“If we can’t agree that justice system is biased, we’re at a zero,” he said. “It’s a non-starter.”