Statehouse move to arm Illinois child welfare workers with pepper spray advances


ILLINOIS In the wake of the murder of two Illinois Department of Children and Family Services social workers, a measure that would arm them with pepper spray is being debated by lawmakers.

Deidre Silas was murdered in January while visiting a home of six children in Sangamon County. The legislation also recognizes Pam Knight, a social worker beaten to death while investigating Mount Carroll in 2017.

According to a spokesperson for the agency, the attack on Silas marked the 21st time since 2017 that social workers have been subjected to threats or acts of violence during more than 2 million home visits in Illinois.

Senate Bill 1486 would require the Illinois State Police to develop a training program that workers must complete before they can carry pepper spray. Pepper spray can only be used if a worker wants to incapacitate someone who tries to assault them or to escape from a dangerous situation when there is no other alternative.

State Representative Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, fears the devices are being misused.

“There is a cultural difference and an anti-black bias that is very real in this society, and I would be very concerned about someone saying that I feel threatened,” Ammons said.

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savannah, said there are provisions in place for anyone who misuses the device, including anyone who misuses pepper spray, would be charged with the battery.

“I trust our ISP and our DCFS employees that they will not use this as a tool to hurt children,” McCombie said. “They only do this to protect themselves and get away.”

Some advocates are still calling for more reforms to DCFS, including improved training and sending frontline workers in teams of two.

The measure was approved by the House on Friday by a vote of 100 to 4 and is back in the Senate for approval.

“Will it end up saving lives? McCombie said. “I don’t know, but it certainly would have helped Pam Knight have three seconds to get away before she was brutally murdered, and it might also have given Diedre Silas a second or three seconds to get away. C is the purpose of this.”

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