Child welfare investigators in Illinois would be allowed to carry pepper spray if a bill with strong bipartisan support becomes law.
Sen. Steve McClure introduced the bill last month following the January stabbing death of investigator Deidre Silas at a home in rural Thayer. Silas was not armed as she checked out a report that children might be in danger in the house. Benjamin Reed, 32, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.
Silas died less than five years after another unarmed investigator was killed in the state. There have been 21 reported threats of physical violence or actual attacks on caseworkers since 2017, according to news reports, out of more than 2 million home visits.
Senate Bill 4165 would allow a child protective investigator from the Department of Children and Family Services to be trained by the State Police, at the department’s expense, to “carry and use personal protection spray devices, such as mace, pepper mace, or pepper gas, for self-defense purposes” on child neglect and abuse calls.
“The goal with this bill is to give that person that is going to encounter this in the future the opportunity to potentially escape because right now they are totally defenseless,” said McClure, Republican from Springfield.
The bill has picked up numerous co-sponsors from both parties since McClure introduced it on Feb. 10, but is getting pushback from groups that say the bill doesn’t offer specific enough guidelines.
“When can they use it, how can they use it, do they have a responsibility to help the individuals that they pepper spray after they’ve gotten to a safe place?” asked Kyle Hillman with National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter.
“We think that it is a distraction honestly from trying to solve the problem,” said Nora Collins-Mandeville with the ACLU of Illinois.
A different bill would increase penalties for crimes against DCFS workers. It proposes that DCFS workers be granted the same protections as police, firefighters, private security employees and other first responders, with the charges increasing to a Class 1 felony offense for a person who causes harm, permanent disability or disfigurement to a DCFS employee. Gov. JB Pritzker has endorsed that bill in concept, news reports said.