FILE - Rep. Carol Ammons

Illinois state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana

(The Center Square) – Following the murder of two Illinois Department of Children and Family Services caseworkers, 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 caseworker beaten to death while investigating in Mount Carroll in 2017.

According to an agency spokesman, the attack on Silas marked the 21st time since 2017 that caseworkers were subject to threats or acts of violence during over 2 million home visits in Illinois.

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

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, is worried the devices will be 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 a person who said I felt threatened,” Ammons said.

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

“I have faith in our ISP and our DCFS workers that they are not going to be using this as a tool to hurt children,” McCombie said. “They are doing this only to protect themselves and to get away.”

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

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

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

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.