Pritzker threatens local police who don’t enforce his stay-at-home order
The governor has made a series of threats against business owners and officials to force compliance with his executive order.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has resorted again to using threats of severe repercussions to get his stay-at-home order enforced. First, it was funds for counties who said they would not be penalizing violators and then it was arrests for business owners who fail to comply. Now, police departments are in the governor’s crosshairs.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency, or IEMA, sent a memo to local law enforcement officials on May 20 informing them federal funds may be withheld from their department if they do not enforce Pritzker’s executive order. It stated, “failure to execute or enforce the [executive order] could be considered noncompliance with the [Public Assistance Program Grant] Agreement condition to comply with all applicable state laws, regulations and policies thus placing the applicant’s funding in jeopardy.”
Pritzker’s latest threat comes as support for his executive order faces new opposition each day. Law enforcement leaders from the state police to local departments have said they will not be penalizing violators after the governor signed an executive order that made a violation by business owners punishable by up to one year in prison as a Class A misdemeanor. He withdrew this penalty after significant public backlash.
On May 19, the Illinois State Police said they will not be arresting any business owner that violates the executive order. Action will only be taken in rare cases in the form of fines or civil penalties against the business after repeated violations. Instead, enforcement will be done educationally by encouraging businesses to follow the best public health practices.
Locally, sheriffs and police chiefs have said they will not be taking part in legal action against businesses. The McHenry, Kendall, Ogle, Grundy, Hancock, Douglas and Kane County sheriffs have declined to take legal action against violators.
“It is outrageous that the governor is threatening retaliation against [sheriffs] and the men and women of their offices,” said Jim Kaitschuk, president of the Illinois Sheriff Association. “He is insulting heroic police officers, corrections officers and local voters.”
DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick told the Daily Herald he is not going to make victims of residents “trying to put food on their children’s table” and that now “is not the time to introduce fear into our society by threatening Class A misdemeanors.” He said that by using education and community policing, his department has been able to gain full compliance without a problem.
“This is not political,” Mendrick said. “I have no intention of defying him. I’m simply saying we don’t have this problem here. And I don’t want to create a problem where one does not exist. And I certainly will not threaten my public.
Last month, Pritzker agreed the need for federal aid is not a partisan issue.
“Coronavirus has blown a hole in every state budget in the nation,” Pritzker said. “If we don’t get any funds, it will be extremely difficult, not only for Illinois but other states”
The comment came in response to a tweet by President Donald Trump that suggested “poorly run states” with Democrats at the helm, specifically singling out Illinois, should not be receiving federal bailout money.
Now, according to the memo, Pritzker seems poised to withhold federal funding that he says Illinois desperately needs from local law enforcement officials that do not properly follow his mandate.
This is the second time Pritzker has threatened withholding federal funds as a tool for local leaders to fall in line. He said he would consider keeping federal relief from counties and businesses that do not follow his executive order.
“These people do not follow science or data. They’re just listening to partisan rhetoric, perhaps, and are following their own instincts, but not science,” he said, even though Madison County’s health board deemed the county safe enough to open with strict social distancing guidelines.
Over $4.9 billion has already been approved for state and local governments in Illinois. The state itself has been given $3.5 billion. DuPage and Kane Counties have each received $161 million and $92.9 million in disaster relief, despite their recent defiance.
As the governor has stressed in recent months, COVID-19 has caused financial struggle for everyone. It would be inappropriate for him to use his power to keep federal funds from local leaders who find better solutions for their communities to deal with the pandemic.