A proposed law would increase the penalties for the so-called "knockout game," though local police leaders say they have not seen cases of the knockout attacks in the area.
State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced the Knockout Assault Prevention Act, which he said is aimed at curbing the knockout game with tougher penalties.
Assaults attributed to a trend of attacking random strangers simply to knock them out have been reported in St. Louis, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, among others. An assault attributed to the knockout game killed a Vietnamese immigrant in 2011 in St. Louis.
However, others have said the "knockout game" is more urban myth than trend. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have both declined to label random violence as "knockout game" attacks for fear of legitimizing or encouraging copycat attacks, according to Reuters news reports.
A St. Louis prosecution of a series of attacks attributed to a so-called "Knockout King" fell apart in 2012 after a witness failed to appear in court.
Kay called the knockout game "a horrible act of violence."
"This so-called game is not a game; it's an act of violence and will not be tolerated in the state of Illinois," Kay said.
The bill would increase the penalty for battery related to the knockout game to a Class 2 felony, punishable by 3-7 years in prison. It also amends the Juvenile Court Act to require that if a minor aged 15 and up commits such a crime, he will be transferred to adult criminal court.
The latter gives St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson some pause.
"Moving it up to a Class 2 felony, I have no issue with that," Watson said. "But I'm not sure about the juveniles... Moving 15-year-olds (into adult court), that's something I think is quite an issue."
However, Watson said he doesn't think the knockout game is a significant problem in the metro-east. "We have not had any reports of that; that's more of a city-type issue," he said. "We live in the state of Illinois, where Chicago experiences things that we simply don't experience in southern Illinois. Around here we haven't had the issue, and I definitely believe this is a Chicago issue ... but if they introduce it and it becomes a law, we can use it."
Madison County Sheriff Bob Hertz also said that he has not seen any cases of "knockout game" violence, "but that's not to say that it couldn't happen tomorrow or the next day, we just don't have a history of it," he said.
Hertz said he supports Kay's measure. "Violence is a problem nationwide and at times locally, and that kind of behavior can't be condoned or justified,' he said. "Anyone that would resort to that type of behavior, especially unprovoked... A Class 2 felony is something I would definitely support. I don't think there's anyone out there that could justify that sort of behavior."
But Hertz also agreed that trends in urban violence tend to stay on the other side of the river.
"A lot of what happens in St. Louis is totally different than what we experience here, thank goodness," he said.
Kay filed House Bill 3783 last week. So far it has not been assigned to a committee.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.