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Fleeing a traffic stop is just a misdemeanor in Illinois, and police chiefs want to change that

CHICAGO (CBS) — The penalty for taking off during a traffic stop is only a misdemeanor in Illinois – and law enforcement officials are seeking to combat such violations, which are a persistent problem.

Chicago police chiefs say they need tougher laws, saying more drivers are driving away when officers stop them. They hope a new initiative in Springfield will give law enforcement the much-needed support to put a stop to it.

An accident in the Palatine on Thursday, police say, was the result of a reckless driver. A man driving a black sport utility vehicle was speeding down the street.

In surveillance video, flashing police lights are visible six seconds after the crash on Rand Road, which left four people hospitalized. Police said the driver refused to stop.

“And it’s a dangerous problem for all of our communities,” Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres said.

The arrest refers to an incident that occurred last month in Naperville, when two Naperville police cars attempted to block a Mercedes sport utility vehicle.

The driver crashed into one of the patrol vehicles and took off. Officers pursued.

Yet under current Illinois law, if arrested, drivers who evade traffic stops can only be charged with misdemeanors.

“I think with the law currently being a misdemeanor, there’s not a lot of accountability or fear of punishment that comes with a minor offense,” Arres said.

Some Illinois state lawmakers want to change that. Illinois Senate Bill 1807 appears to make it a felony to “flee or attempt to elude” an officer in a car.

Chief Arres said such a move is long overdue, especially considering the situation in Naperville.

In 2019, Naperville saw 30 vehicles move away from police, and in four years, Naperville now averages 137 vehicles per year.

“I think a lot of the problem is that if we don’t prosecute, the message gets out: ‘Take off and they won’t pursue you,’” Arres said. “So you know, people talk.”

In south suburban Lynwood, located along the Indiana state line, Police Chief Gregory Thomas said drivers were taking advantage of Illinois law.

“It’s almost comical,” Thomas said. “When we do certain traffic stops or detain subjects, they will ask us, ‘Is this Indiana or Illinois?'”

Thomas said drivers know Indiana police will chase them, while Illinois departments face restrictions — and if drivers flee, it’s only a misdemeanor.

“The criminal entity understands jurisdictional boundaries,” Thomas said, “and when the criminal elements know they are in Illinois — and sometimes in Cook County — they take advantage.”

Chiefs added that most people who flee or elude officers are often trying to hide something illegal in vehicles.

The state Senate bill would not only make fleeing police a felony, but would increase the prison sentence from one to three upon conviction.