At a recent House Public Safety and Violence Prevention task force hearing, state Rep. Patrick Windhorst got to ask Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis about recruiting and retaining police cadets.

"What things can be done particularly by the general assembly to improve recruiting and retention?' Windhorst asked.

“We can talk about making law enforcement better without folks condemning law enforcement,” Davis said. “No one wants to be painted by that broad-stroke brush. From my perspective, one of the main things for recruitment and retention is going to be the dialogue.”

Davis said helping to promote the profession in a positive way has essentially become a full-time job for him, as has the science of making sure to pick the right individual to put in uniform.

“For me now, I have a kind of a paradigm shift in what I look for in officers,” he said. “For me, the first thing I look for is the ability to empathize with folks. Having the ability to empathize means that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what community I put you in, you may not be able to relate to them directly but you have the ability to empathize. I need you to be able to communicate and problem solve.”

Windhorst has joined other Republican lawmakers in pushing a House resolution to repeal the SAFE-T Act, legislation passed last year that aimed to reform the criminal justice system. He said the measure was passed without input from Republican lawmakers.

“When it came to the passage of the recent SAFE-T Act and the trailer bills that occurred, there was not that collaboration,” Windhorst said at the task force hearing. “In fact, Republicans were not included in that discussion which led to some of the frustration on our side."

Among other measures, the law ends cash bail for violent offenders, allows detained subjects to make unmonitored phone calls, prohibits arrest for certain criminal offenses and allows unlimited anonymous complaints against police officers.

The bill’s passage was followed by a record number of officers resigning, with more than half of the state’s 102 counties now having a vacancy in the sheriff's office.

State Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) is pushing a SAFE-T Act amendment bill that seeks to increase the penalties for criminals who use a gun in an aggravated carjacking. That bill that now sits in the Criminal Justice Committee will also require a district attorney and a judge to submit an explanation if they choose to allow a suspect to plead a gun case down to a lesser charge.

“If someone gets arrested, a felon in possession of a gun, or illegal discharge of a gun, or using the gun in commission of a crime, what we’re saying in this bill ... the public has a right to know why,” Caulkins said. “If they plead that out, and say we’re just getting you for aggravated battery and drop the gun charges, the public ought to know why that happened.”