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Police board chair has gun permit reserved for real cops

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In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Sean Smoot as one of 11 members of a new Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The chair of the Illinois Police Training and Standards Board has a permit to carry a concealed firearm by virtue of being a retired police officer, even though he never was a sworn officer with arrest powers.

In his 2019 application for a permit to carry a concealed firearm via a program for retired law enforcement officers, Sean M. Smoot, under penalty of perjury, signed a form stating that he had been employed as a law enforcement officer for 10 years, had the power to make arrests and "was authorized to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or incarceration of any person for any violation of law." He told Illinois Retired Officer Concealed Carry, the agency that issues permits, that Leland Grove had employed him as a police commissioner.

Under state and federal law, only bona fide cops who have retired can obtain permits to carry concealed firearms through a program that began in 2004. Once granted by a state, the power to pack heat extends nationwide.

But Smoot never worked a beat in Leland Grove, where he was an alderman for a dozen years. The city has no personnel file for Smoot, nor any police reports prepared by him. Several online biographies, including one issued in December, when Gov. JB Pritzker announced that Smoot would become chair of the board tasked with training police, contain no mention of Smoot ever being a police officer.

In addition to training police, the board can revoke certifications to work as law enforcement officers and can investigate or review misconduct complaints against cops, a power recently granted to the board by the General Assembly. Pritzker appointed Smoot to the board in 2020.

"Throughout his career, Sean Smoot has prioritized making Illinois safer, sometimes in extraordinarily difficult circumstances," Pritzker said in a December press release. "I can think of no one who is more qualified for this position, and I wish him the very best of luck as he begins his term."

Smoot, an attorney who is director and chief legal counsel for the Police Benevolent and Protective Association, a police officers' union, did not return phone calls or an email. Leland Grove police chief Dan Ryan, who signed a form stating, under penalty of perjury, that Smoot was a retired cop who met requirements to obtain a concealed weapons permit under the program for retired police officers, also could not be reached for comment.

In 2021, the Police Training and Standards Board fired Brent Fischer, the agency's executive director, after the state inspector general determined that he had wrongly certified Howard Buffett, son of investor Warren Buffett, as a law enforcement officer after the younger Buffett donated money to law-enforcement causes, including a $15 million donation to the board in 2016 and a $10,000 donation for a police dog recertification program three years later. All told, Buffett's donations to various law enforcement organizations totaled more $143 million, the inspector general reported.

"Certification of law enforcement officer status, especially considering the significant public interest in maintaining integrity in that process, should not be minimized, nor should it be provided based on someone's ability to financially contribute, regardless of how great that assistance is, to the law enforcement community," the inspector general wrote in a 2021 report that found Buffett had not completed basic law enforcement training courses.

Since obtaining his concealed weapon permit from Illinois Retired Officer Concealed Carry, Smoot has renewed it three times, most recently last summer, when Kenton Manning, program manager for Illinois Retired Officer Concealed Carry, was rangemaster and certified that all 30 rounds fired from distances ranging from five to 15 yards found their mark.

Manning says that his agency does not verify information included in written forms signed by applicants and representatives of departments who certify that applicants meet standards. About 9,000 retired cops in Illinois have permits issued by his organization, he says.

"I wouldn't knowingly let someone who I knew wasn't a sworn officer into the program," Manning says.

Bruce Rushton

Bruce Rushton is a freelance journalist.

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