(MCT) — When Illinois residents begin carrying concealed handguns legally next year, law enforcement officers will have to be ready for a "sea change" in how they conduct traffic and street stops, officials said Wednesday as they announced a new police training program they hope will help prevent potentially fatal mistakes.
Illinois, the last state to allow concealed carry, is expected to begin issuing permits in April under a law that goes into effect on the first of the year. Traffic stops already are among the most dangerous activities for officers, and throwing newly legalized handguns into the mix could have tragic consequences, officials said.
"As soon as you see someone move (and) they have a gun, all of a sudden things get really crazy in a hurry," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told reporters at a news conference. "What we're attempting to do is get out in front of this."
"There's no two ways about it. This is going to be a sea change for law enforcement around the state," he said. "(Before the law) if you weren't a member of law enforcement and you had a gun, you had it illegally. Now you have to throw all that out the window and sort of look at things in a whole different way."
Kevin McClain, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, said the board is already expected to boost the required training for new officers to about 560 hours, up from 480. That would include less than 10 hours of new training on concealed carry.
"The ultimate goal is not only to protect law enforcement but also to protect the public," he said. McClain said the board looked at training in Texas and other states that have long had concealed carry and also tried to make the new curriculum fit the officers at about 40,000 agencies in both the state's urban and rural areas.
"We want to stress that these could be law-abiding citizens who are now carrying these weapons and that the initial reaction of the law enforcement officer must be a little more savvy in approaching someone so that the public itself is treated with respect," McClain said.
McClain said there could be more arrests for disorderly conduct or obstruction for citizens who don't cooperate.
"Police officers are going to have to show a lot of restraint," he said. "You might get people that are carrying the weapon legally that get obnoxious with a law enforcement officer."
The new training includes video on how officers should handle traffic and street stops. An attorney was hired to include instruction on the new law. McClain said he expects to revise the training as the courts begin ruling on challenges to the law.
Dart took a few shots at the "brain surgeons" in Springfield who drafted the concealed carry legislation, saying legislators made the job of policing the new rules more difficult than necessary.
"It was done in such a confusing fashion as best," he said. The law enforcement community wanted the bill to include a provision requiring citizens to announce they had a concealed carry permit when they were pulled over, Dart said.
But legislators disagreed, he said.
"It was something that we felt strongly about collectively that would help. Why the brain surgeons down there thought this was not needed, good luck figuring that out," he said. "It's Springfield, there's no logic attached."
Dart said he expected more shootings to occur -- including those that are ruled justified -- once the new law takes effect and more people are carrying handguns.
"I don't know anybody in this debate who's going to sit there and say that with more guns out there it's not going to lend itself to more shootings," he said.
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