NEW VOICES: Illinois Police Chief Calls for End to State's Death Penalty

Police Chief Charles A. Gruber of St. Charles, Illinois, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, recently stated that "the death penalty does nothing to keep us safe," and should be abolished.  Chief Gruber served as president of both the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He worked with national organizations for over a decade to devise reforms to make the death penalty effective and fair but now now believes Illinois will always leave open the possibility of executing an innocent person and will subject murder victims’ families to excruciatingly long proceedings. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, he wrote, “I am grateful that SB 3539 not only gets rid of a system that has proven itself too flawed to fix, but that also puts the savings from the death penalty where they are desperately needed: law enforcement training. The best thing we can do to ensure the safety of our communities and men and women in uniform is to see that law enforcement have the resources and training they need to do their job well.”  Read full op-ed below.

Repealing death penalty is the right thing to do

As a police chief with more than 40 years of law enforcement experience, I commend the Illinois House of Representatives for passing SB 3539 to repeal the death penalty. This is a bill that is a long time in the making, and deals with an issue I have long worked on and struggled with. As former President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and former President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, I have worked with National organizations to devise reforms to make the death penalty effective and fair. However, after watching Illinois attempt reforms for nearly 11 years, it is clear to me we cannot get the death penalty right. There will always be the possibility of executing an innocent person; there will always be a tremendously long trial that subjects victims' families to an excruciating process; and there will always be tremendous costs involved. All of this might be justified if the death penalty was a deterrent or helpful law enforcement tool in any way, but this is not the case. My professional experience has shown that the death penalty does nothing to keep us safe, and my colleagues confirmed this in a 2009 national poll of police chiefs in which the death penalty was ranked the least effective tool for deterring violent crime.

I am grateful that SB 3539 not only gets rid of a system that has proven itself too flawed to fix, but that also puts the savings from the death penalty where they are desperately needed: law enforcement training. The best thing we can do to ensure the safety of our communities and men and women in uniform is to see that law enforcement have the resources and training they need to do their job well. SB 3539 does just that. I am proud that Illinois is taking a step away from pouring a disproportionate amount of time and money into a few capital cases, and moving toward ensuring all law enforcement have the resources they need. This bill is not just tough on crime, it's also smart on crime.

-- Chief Charles A. Gruber, St. Charles

(C. Gruber, "Repealing death penalty is the right thing to do," Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2011).  Read more about law enforcement officials' views on the death penalty.  See Innocence and Victims.  Read DPIC's report, "Smart on Crime."