By: Robert Davis
After a deadly weekend of shootings that left five dead and 19 injured, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) unveiled a new online tool that enables the public search who has been charged with gun crimes, who were arrested, and who made bail.
The Gun Offender Dashboard currently also allows individuals to find detailed descriptions of an offender’s crime, including what crimes they are charged with committing, how much their bail is, and whether they are still incarcerated.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told AP News that the public deserves “a quick way to see who’s been arrested on gun-related charges and whether they have posted bail.”
But gun rights advocates in the city say the tool is ripe for abuse because it doesn’t differentiate between criminals who were arrested for gun crimes and individuals who were arrested with a firearm in their possession. It also conflates people who have only been charged with crimes and people who have been convicted.
“The people on this list have not been convicted of the crimes for which they were charged,” Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli told AP News. “Yet CPD is flaunting bond court stats as if they have already been convicted.”
Other advocates say there are serious due process issues to address because individuals who have not been convicted are categorized as “offenders” on the dashboard.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, tried to downplay the concerns during a press briefing by saying the dashboard isn’t providing any information that isn’t publicly available.
Revolving Door Keeps Spinning
Critics say this is just a way for Lightfoot to side-step the real problem fueling Chicago’s gun violence epidemic: the revolving-door justice system that allows violent criminals back on the street.
“You’ve heard me stress many times the importance of keeping gun offenders accountable and not making it easy for them to return to the streets mere days after being arrested for felony gun charges,” Johnson told The Chicago Tribune. “This is just merely an attempt to be transparent of everything that we have going on in the judicial system.
One of the most egregious ways Chicago lawmakers ensured their revolving door policies keep on spinning is by passing a “bail reform” bill in 2017 that required judges to set low bail amounts to give more people chances to get out of jail. Criminal justice activists said the bill would increase public safety by allowing people who pose no danger to be set free.
This policy, not surprisingly, has actually had the opposite effect.
In 2018, a Chicago bus driver was given a $400 bail after he admitted to repeatedly raping a disabled woman on his bus. That same year, a man fired his weapon at another man in Wrigleyville after a Cubs game and received a $500 fine.
“The Illinois ‘Bail Reform’ bill suggests electronic home monitoring, curfews, drug counseling, stay-away orders, and in-person reporting,” Guns Save Lives, a pro-Second Amendment organization said in a press release. “Obviously, many leave jail without posting a cent. Just like the six-time felony DUI suspect released in Cook County who, days later, killed an Illinois State Trooper while drunk and high on drugs.”
No End in Sight
While nearly 1,800 Chicagoans have been shot so far in 2019, lawmakers in Cook County are still pondering ways to restrict access to weapons.
Between red flag laws, dealer licensing, and an AR-15 ban, Chicago’s politicians seem hell-bent on allowing the epidemic to keep spreading.
“A lot of this stems from the laws and policies that are in place,” Amy Swearer, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told the Chicago City Wire. “These are things that generally fall back on elected officials. The good news is that for those steps to take place, there are actions that voters can take. It just comes down to voters taking those steps to ensure that the people in position to do something are actually taking appropriate actions.”
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414 (at) gmail dot com.