Chicago’s top cop found himself under fire from the chief judge and prosecutor of Cook County Tuesday after he once again blamed them for the city’s rising gun violence, including a holiday weekend that saw over 100 people shot.
Police Supt. David Brown complained at a news conference that the court system in Cook County releases too many violent criminals by setting low bonds and relying too much on electronic monitoring.
“Chicago police officers are doing their job by arresting people and charging them with murder,” Brown insisted. “That’s doing our part. And what’s happening in the courts, it’s creating this unsafe environment for all of us.”
But Judge Timothy Evans, chief of the Cook County court system, dismissed Brown’s criticism as simplistic. “Speculation based on isolated cases is not the same as reality based on a complete picture,” he said in a statement.
State’s Attorney Kim Foxx turned Brown’s criticism against himself, saying police need to make more arrests for violent crimes.
“It starts with apprehending those who pull the trigger,” she said in a statement. “Police must make an arrest before a case reaches the courthouse door.”
Amid the heated exchange of words, an alderman once again proposed sending in the National Guard, an idea Mayor Lori Lightfoot described as grandstanding. “I don’t think I need to say anything more about that,” she said.
The police department said it would have no other comment about the weekend violence beyond what the superintendent said at the news conference.
Both Brown and Lightfoot have repeatedly questioned the decisions of prosecutors and judges as this year’s violence continues to outpace 2020, which was the most violent year in the city since the mid-1990s.
In making his case yet again, Brown pointed to more than 90 people who’ve been charged with murder but were later released back into their communities on electronic monitoring.
“If the cops’ productivity was down and not unprecedentedly high, I would be arguing we need to do more as police officers, that’s not the case here,” he said, noting officers recovered 244 illegal guns over the holiday weekend, resulting in 86 arrests.
The superintendent did not say if police had made any arrests in any of the weekend shootings, including attacks that wounded at least 13 children 15 years of age and younger.
This holiday was the most violent Fourth of July weekend since 2017, when at least 101 people were shot, 14 of them fatally. However, that holiday was on a Tuesday, so the tally covered four full days, not three like this year.
Many of the shootings were in the Calumet and South Chicago police districts on the South Side, in neighborhoods that have seen more violence this year than last, according to Sun-Times data.
Brown was quick to point out that violent crime in other major cities has increased dramatically more than Chicago, both last year and this year. “It’s a violent crime wave that’s happening in this country,” he said.
So far in 2021, murders are up nearly 18% nationally, according to statistics compiled by crime analyst Jeff Asher, while Chicago has seen an increase of nearly 4% from the same period last year.
However, murders last year in Chicago jumped by more than 50%, much higher than the national increase of 30%.
The nearly 800 killings in Chicago in 2020 was still short of the city’s annual tolls during much of the 1980s and 1990s, but it marked the highest number of slayings in 20 years.
“No one would do the job that Chicago police officers do right now, no one would wade into large crowds and risk being shot,” Brown said. “No one would go down these dark allies that officers go down.”
Two officers — a commander and a sergeant — were wounded on the West Side early Sunday while dispersing a crowd. One was hit in the foot, the other grazed in the thigh.
Brown said he wasn’t engaging in “finger pointing” by blaming the courts, but seeking to spur further debate. “I think people should hear this,” he said. “This is a worthwhile debate here and in all places around the country.”
But Evans insisted that “bail reform has not led to an increase in crime. Looking at individual tragic cases in isolation may contribute to the speculation that releasing individuals before trial rather than incarcerating them — whether by placing them on electronic monitoring or other forms of supervision — means an increase in crime.”
There were 100 murder defendants on electronic monitoring as of Tuesday, out of 3,500 on such restraints, according to the sheriff’s office. Of the entire group, 72% were facing charges for violent crimes.
In July 2017, before new policies limiting limit pre-trial jail time for all but the most dangerous defendants, there were 2,200 on electronic monitoring, 32% of them facing charges related to violent crime, the office said.
Foxx, after taking a swipe at the low number of arrests by Brown’s department, argued that “finger-pointing instead of talking honestly about the violence plaguing our city doesn’t help bring solutions that make our communities safer.
“The violence we are experiencing is not the result of a slowed down court system; it is a larger and more complex issue (both locally and nationally), that requires all of the criminal justice stakeholders to work together rather than engaging in deflection and blame-shifting,” she said.
Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell said the messaging by Brown and Lightfoot might be politically expedient, but detracts from programs that seek to suppress crime through community outreach.
Mitchell watched Brown’s press conference online, and disagreed with the superintendent’s assessment that the large number of people charged with murder on electronic monitoring devices are “driving the violence.”
“If you are charged with something as serious as murder, you probably have posted a very high cash bond and are still subject to all sorts of restrictions. You’re being monitored on GPS, so we know exactly where you are. You have curfews. You have to check in with the court,” said Mitchell, whose office represents roughly 90% of all criminal defendants in Cook County.
“This idea that if the courts would just ‘do their job’ and we would all be safer flies in the face of numerous studies,” Mitchell said. “Crime is up in cities all over the U.S. right now, and that covers cities with conservative bond policies and bond reform.
“I feel for the superintendent. He has a very difficult job,” he added. “But we have to get away from asking what the superintendent is going to do on a Thursday to stop violence over the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) called for the deployment of the Illinois National Guard “immediately to get a handle on this city.”
He said the Guard wouldn’t be tasked with patrolling neighborhoods and streets, but rather be used to “secure the perimeter” around the downtown area, allowing more police officers to be sent to communities.
Asked about critics who say they don’t want their neighborhoods turned into armed camps, Beale responded, “I get that but my question to them is, what’s your plan? I’ll be more than willing to listen to anybody who has a plan going forward. But just complaining and not having a plan doesn’t resonate with me.”