Hanley, Carpenter tell you where they stand on the issues – News – Rockford Register Star


Candidates for Winnebago County state’s attorney answer the questions you said were on your mind this election season

The Rockford Register Star’s election coverage is based on what community members have told us they want to hear the candidates talking about as they compete for votes. Hence the theme “You’re the Boss” — it’s the voters, after all, who are in charge of our democracy — given to this year’s election coverage. (Go to http://tiny.cc/yourelection to see more about our public-powered coverage agenda.)

Today, the two candidates for Winnebago County state’s attorney, Democrat Paul Carpenter and Republican J. Hanley, answer a series of questions concerning issues that voters tell us are uppermost in their thinking this year.

We’re asking the same questions of candidates in other races and will publish their answers in coming days. Candidates also have the opportunity to discuss other issues that are high priorities for them. The candidates answers have been lightly edited.

Paul Carpenter, Democrat

How do you propose to incorporate mental health professionals into the way we police our communities?

We need to ensure that appropriately trained Crisis Intervention Team officers are available to respond to calls throughout Winnebago County, whether it is in Rockford or any other municipality or unincorporated area in the county. We need to use funding from the mental health sales tax to establish a “mental health triage” to determine whether a person needs to be arrested, or needs to get immediate mental health care. We need to use funding from the mental health sales tax to support youth mental health services, and those services need to be available before a crisis develops.

What do you propose to do to improve the cultural competence of law enforcement?

The state’s attorney does not have the power to establish policies for, or discipline, police officers, because they are employed by independent units of government. That being said, the state’s attorney’s office should establish an “early warning system” which many police agencies currently use. For the state’s attorney’s office, this would consist of increased communication between the state’s attorney’s office and police agencies when prosecutors see actions by officers that are not aligned with justice.

What is your plan to reform law enforcement to ensure that officers are held accountable for misconduct and to make police disciplinary records transparent to the public?

Police discipline is predominantly handled pursuant to negotiated contracts with municipalities, counties and the state. I support the establishment of citizen review boards in all jurisdictions. I also support, and would advocate for, establishing uniform procedures across the state for filing complaints, independent investigations into those complaints, and hearings on complaints that are open to the public. The state’s attorney’s office should accept complaints of criminal conduct by police officers and refer those complaints to appropriate investigative bodies, which should be independent of the department from which the complaint arises.

How do you propose to safely reenergize the local economy amid the coronavirus pandemic?

A strong economy is closely linked with a safer community. When unemployment is low, offenders can get jobs. When unemployment skyrockets, it is much more difficult. People that have jobs are much less likely to commit criminal offenses than those who don’t.

How do you propose to restore a shared sense of responsibility for the common good?

We see division at the national level, and all too often at the county level. The state’s attorney’s office needs to take a leadership role in conflict resolution in Winnebago County government. Taxpayers have spent too much money on lawsuits between the sheriff, the County Board, the County Board chairman and others. I have the ability to bring people together, and resolve conflicts for the common good, before they turn into costly, unnecessary lawsuits. These lawsuits only serve to line the pockets of out-of-town lawyers, and cause further division, both in government and in the community.

Discuss one or two other issues that are high priorities for you and how you would address them in office.

1. Improve domestic violence prosecutions by working with community organizations like the Family Peace Center to ensure that survivors have the resources they need to make informed decisions about their involvement in the prosecutions of domestic violence cases. Survivors often decline to be involved in prosecutions for a variety of reasons, such as financial, housing, fear, or emotional attachment to an abuser. We need to make sure that they are empowered to participate in prosecutions.

2. Expand problem-solving courts and other community based alternatives that hold offenders accountable, but which also address the root causes of crime and reduce the chances that the offender will reoffend in the future. Implement and expand other proven criminal justice reforms like deferred prosecution and restorative justice models that actually make the community safer and result in more people being able to be contributing members of our community.

J. Hanley, Republican

How do you propose to incorporate mental health professionals into the way we police our communities?

Mental health professionals should be incorporated in the criminal justice system to intercept (or redirect) those with mental illness from the system, particularly at the pre- and post-arrest stage. First, we should pilot a “co-responder” program in which mental health professionals would accompany police officers on certain calls. Second, we should continue to train our police officers in crisis intervention training and give them the discretion and resources to divert those with mental illness to community resources – rather than arresting them. Lastly, mental health professionals should be evaluating those entering our jail so that they can be treated effectively and, when appropriate, diverted from the jail to community resources.

What do you propose to do to improve the cultural competence of law enforcement?

(In responding to this question, I have included prosecuting attorneys as “law enforcement.”)

First, as the lead law enforcement officer in the county, I must lead by example and be culturally aware and continually challenge my own assumptions and beliefs. Then, create a culture in the state’s attorney’s office where such introspection is expected. A specific goal — have all prosecuting attorneys be “trauma informed.” Next, it is difficult to be culturally competent if the office lacks cultural diversity. Thus, the state’s attorney’s office must become more diverse. I will creatively recruit attorneys, looking beyond the typical hiring pipeline, to bring attorneys with diverse perspectives to the office. Lastly, data must be collected and analyzed to ensure that the prosecution and sentencing decisions of the office do not unjustly affect a certain population.

What is your plan to reform law enforcement to ensure that officers are held accountable for misconduct and to make police disciplinary records transparent to the public?

The state’s attorney does not have any administrative authority over law enforcement officers; however, the state’s attorney is responsible for prosecuting criminal conduct in Winnebago County. Therefore, if a law enforcement officer were to break the law and the evidence would lead to a conviction at trial, the offending officer would be charged.

Further, prosecutors have an obligation to provide exculpatory evidence to defendants charged with crimes — this can include evidence relating to a police officer’s record. While an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona, I was the co-discovery coordinator for the District of Arizona. In that role, I was responsible for training (assistant U.S attorneys) regarding this requirement and ensuring the district was compliant with its disclosure obligations under federal law.

How do you propose to safely reenergize the local economy amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Our community’s high crime rate (and reputation) has a negative effect on economic development. I have an aggressive plan to turn it around and we will execute that plan in collaboration with judges, law enforcement, local leaders, and the business community.

How do you propose to restore a shared sense of responsibility for the common good?

Trust. It will be the shared value of the state’s attorney’s office. And we will work tirelessly to earn the trust of the people of Winnebago County. We will do that by being responsive, collaborative, transparent, and fair.

Discuss one or two issues that are high priorities for you and how you would address them in office.

First, we will prioritize the prosecution of violent criminals and violent crimes — shootings, domestic violence, child abuse and gang-related crime. We will achieve this through (1) expanded use of “focused deterrence” — a strategy focused on identifying the worst offenders and pulling all available “levers” to sanction them; and (2) creation of a “gun court” to swiftly punish those charged with gun crimes.

Second, we must get better at prosecuting domestic violence offenders while also meeting the needs of victims. I will use the influence of the office to support the Family Peace Center.

Third, intercept (or redirect) those with mental health issues from the criminal justice system. At the pre-arrest stage, train officers in crisis intervention and empower and encourage officers to redirect those with mental health disorders to community resources – not the jail – where appropriate. At the post-arrest stage, identify those individuals booked in our county jail with mental health disorders and, if appropriate, release individuals to community resources. Further, using prosecutorial discretion, increase the number of defendants participating in the “specialty” mental health court because of its proven success in providing treatment and reducing recidivism.

Fourth, we need to separate from the criminal justice system juveniles whose specific situations can be addressed in better ways. The juvenile justice system needs to provide more positive intervention programs and mentoring, and reserve incarceration for only the most extreme cases.

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