"Today marks the end of National Police week, a time for citizens to reflect on the vital role played by our law enforcement officers in keeping us safe and to enjoy the freedoms scarcely enjoyed throughout the world. A time for citizens to recognize the perilous duties they perform on a daily basis, and a time for citizens to honor our fallen heroes.

Last week, I joined Governor Pritzker along with other sponsors to announce that a bill was making its way through the legislature to bolster existing Scott’s Law protections for law enforcement patrolling our roads and highways. Scott’s Law was named after CFD Lt Scott Gillen, who was struck and killed by an intoxicated driver while assisting with a crash on Don Ryan Expressway. As is true far too often for first responders, Lt Gillen gave his life while trying to save another’s’, but in this instance, it was completely preventable.

At our announcement, ISP Director Brendan Kelly noted that 16 Illinois State Police Troopers were struck by drivers who failed to slow down and move left when passing an emergency vehicle stopped along the highway. To address this, our bill would enhance penalties and create a separate fund to educate drivers on the law and criminal penalties for repeat offenders. We have had 2 ISP troopers killed in 2019. There is no room for flexibility.

Bringing up Scott’s Law reminds us of just how perilous the job of a law enforcement officer can be, even in the most routine duties. Trooper Gerald Ellis was killed while driving on I-94 at 3:30am. He was ending shift and heading to his home in Antioch where his wife and two daughters slept peacefully. They would wake up to the nightmare feared by every family that bears the badge. An unlicensed driver, actually a driver that had been unlicensed since 1996 and had a pending DUI charge from weeks before, veered onto the interstate going the wrong way. Observing this, Trooper Ellis immediately went into action, maneuvering his patrol car over two lanes and intentionally colliding with the vehicle going the wrong way. Saving the car behind him that was traveling in the same direction as the oncoming vehicle. The car the Trooper selflessly saved, which contained a family, was unsettled. Trooper Ellis, just 36 years old died of his injuries. The tough US Army veteran and career trooper, who was also tender enough to get a tiara for his young daughters, would never get to hold them again. One family was spared, but another would never be the same.

Trooper Ellis wasn’t on a raid. He was driving home, but his true self shined through. His instinct was to put his own body in front of danger. His ultimate sacrifice was for a carload of strangers that he would never know. That is the character of so many who enter law enforcement. You see a problem and you try to fix it. You know that a Facebook post, coffee shop complaints or a shrug of the shoulders never improved a thing. The world gets better when good people roll up their sleeves and make the world better. The world gets better when good police arrive on the scene.

You don’t have to travel far to remember that law enforcement in our own community presents a risk to the brave souls who wear the uniform. Some of you may know the name of Robert Tatman, a Champaign Police officer who was found by his squad car, shot to death in November of 1967, minutes after radioing in that he was stopping a vehicle on West Church Street near Mattis Avenue. Tatman, only 27 years old and a father of 4, death has never been solved. To preserve his memory and sacrifice, it was my honor to sponsor, along with Senator Chapin Rose, a Senate Joint Resolution that renamed West Church Street to “Officer Robert L Tatman Memorial Drive” to mark the 50th anniversary of his unsolved murder. Many of you were there for the presentation.

Let the weight of this week and the losses it represents settle in. For our law enforcement, use it as a reminder not to get complacent in even the most routine situations. Remember PTI and the hard turn from peaceful to deadly in an instant and remain vigilant. If you’re unsure as to whether to call for backup, do it. To my prosecutor friends, let this week remind you to schedule a ride along with your local officers and do it regularly. I promise that it will give you a different perspective on the arrest reports you read the next day sitting in your safe and well-lit office. To the citizens of Champaign County, let this occasion remind us of the heroes in our midst. When you read one side of an incident on social media or the local paper, reserve judgement until you have all the facts, or at least give the benefit of the doubt to those who would give so much more to keep you out of harm’s way. 

A job in law enforcement is unlike any other. It is dangerous, it is special and it is honorable. Be safe everyone, thank you for attending and God bless."

 
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