CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for Cook County judges to stop putting alleged violent offenders on electronic monitoring and has asked for more federal agents to come to Chicago for gun investigations.
The mayor made those calls during a Monday speech about public safety — a speech made as violence has skyrocketed in Chicago and across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chicago has seen more than 780 homicides so far this year.
“The time for talk is over,” Lightfoot said. “We need concrete and definitive steps to be taken.”
Much of what Lightfoot called for has been in the works: She renewed a push to pass an ordinance that would make it so the city could sue gang members to seize their assets, and she said the city will invest in communities to create opportunities for residents and prevent violence.
But the mayor announced she’ll also ask for Cook County judges to put a moratorium on electronic monitoring for people charged with serious, violent crimes like murder, attempted murder, rape and carjacking. She said 51 people have been arrested for a shooting or murder while on electronic monitoring this year, and there is “often [no] meaningful supervision” for people in the program.
Local judges have let “almost 2,300 offenders with these charges back onto our streets, in our neighborhoods, on our blocks,” Lightfoot said. “It defies common sense, it is not safe, and this practice must be stopped immediately.”
Lightfoot said she’ll send a formal request for the moratorium to begin immediately for people charged with murder, attempted murder, aggravated gun possession, felons in possession, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, carjacking, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping.
“We have been informed that the mayor made a statement regarding electronic monitoring; however, we have not yet received her request,” Mary Wisniewski, a spokeperson for the Office of the Chief Judge, said in a Monday statement. “We share the concerns about the tragic violence in our community. This is both a local and a national problem. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in finding solutions to this complex issue.”
Sharone Mitchell, Cook County public defender, said the solutions Lightfoot outlined in the speech are “based on fear” and criticized her call for the moratorium.
“The mayor’s regressive proposal calls for the pretrial detention of thousands of people who haven’t been convicted of anything and the plan could only be achieved by exploding the population of Cook County Jail in the middle of a pandemic,” Mitchell said in a statement. “It’s clearly unconstitutional, given that everyone is entitled to an individualized hearing on the specifics of their case, but more importantly it would result in the incarceration of an untold number of people who did nothing but get accused of a criminal offense.”
The mayor has frequently taken aim at the justice system in 2020 and 2021, saying violent offenders are being released by lenient judges and it is contributing to gun crime. Her office has not provided evidence of those claims, and studies have shown they are not true.
Lightfoot said she’s also asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to detail more agents to Chicago for six months to help with seizing and investigating guns. With those agents should be more federal prosecutors to handle new cases and federal marshals to assist the Police Department and Cook County Sheriff’s Office, she said.
Those steps are needed to combat the flood of illegal guns that come into Chicago from outside the state and are used in violent crimes, Lightfoot said.
“Only the federal government has the resources and reach to make a meaningful dent in illegal gun trafficking across state lines,” Lightfoot said. “They must do more, and we are ready, willing and able to work in further partnership in this crucial work.”
Police officers are expected to take in 12,000 illegal guns in 2021 in Chicago, Lightfoot said. That will include more than 400 “ghost guns,” which can be bought online.
The mayor also called again for officials to pass the proposed Victims Justice Ordinance. That ordinance would allow officials to sue gang members to seize property like cars and property that they had gotten through gang activity.
And the city must increase its license plate reader camera, which can be used to combat crime, Lightfoot said.
With crime up, activists around the city have called on officials, including Lightfoot, to focus more on preventing crime than responding to it.
At the heart of the issue is Chicago’s years-long struggles with gun violence. Scholars, violence prevention activists and other experts have long said disinvestment, trauma, systemic racism and other factors fuel violence in the city, and communities and residents need mental health help, support systems and investment to prevent more losses.
The city is investing $1.2 billion in things like affordable housing, mental health support and addiction treatment in Fiscal Year 2022, Lightfoot said.
“Many of the communities that are most plagued by violent crime also have high incidences of poverty, high unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction and other ills that tear away at the fabric of community,” Lightfoot said. At another point, she said, “Law enforcement is key, but it cannot be the only tool we use.”
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