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Bar For What Conduct Warrants Decertifying Police Officers Is Too High, Says Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Time and again, we have shown you it is incredibly difficult to fire a police officer in the state of Illinois.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Tuesday, lawmakers have been looking to make it easier to decertify officers for misconduct.

Right now in Illinois, it takes a felony or a serious misdemeanor for an officer to lose his or her certification. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said that bar is too high.

Here's an example – last year, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability ruled that CPD Officer Patrick Kelly shot his friend, Michael LaPorta, after a night of drinking in 2010 and lied about it for years. COPA recommended that Kelly be fired.

Then-Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson later concurred. But since Officer Kelly was never charged with a crime, he is still on the force and still certified.

"Let me be clear," Raoul said. "I'm in no, I don't have an appetite to go fishing to decertify officers."

But Raoul pointed out to the state Senate Criminal Law and Special Committee on Public Safety today that a scenario like what happened in Kelly's case would not necessarily be the same in the 29 other states that currently have broader authority to decertify for conduct short of a criminal conviction.

For example, from 2009 to 2014, the State of Georgia decertified about 2,800 officers. In the same time, Illinois decertified just 62.

"You get officers moving around from department to department, despite misconduct," said University of Pittsburgh law professor and police use of force expert David A. Harris.

Harris said Illinois is not alone in looking to strengthen its ability to de-certify for misconduct.

"You get officers hired in a second department when the first department would have fired them, and that's not a good situation for either public safety or public trust," Harris said.

Raoul was part of a working group that met nine times since July to discuss revamping the decertification requirements, and exactly which offenses would qualify as de-certifiable conduct "unbecoming of an officer."

But any changes would require legislative action.

"Not every police chief or sheriff will have the same appetite to regulate conduct becoming unbecoming of an officer, and so that's why it's critical to have a mechanism at the state level," Raoul said.

In addition to Georgia, the attorney general also pointed to Florida, West Virginia, Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan as states with greater authority to decertify officers.

The attorney general said police unions were not part of the review, although they have been vocal about their disapproval of expanding decertification.

Raoul said he is open to getting their input later in the process.

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