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Preckwinkle says data don't back up Dart's concerns on release of gun suspects on monitors

Monday, February 26, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Monday disputed Sheriff Tom Dart’s recent assertion that public safety could be compromised because hundreds more gun suspects have been released from custody on electronic monitoring since bond overhaul measures took effect last fall.


Dart’s own data don’t support his warning, said Preckwinkle, who emphasized that many of the defendants in question face charges of gun possession, not necessarily a violent crime.

“I believe it is our responsibility to keep these matters in context and not contribute to sensationalizing them,” Preckwinkle wrote in a letter dated Monday to Dart.


Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who pushed the bond overhaul efforts, echoed that sentiment in a statement Monday, saying judges don’t release defendants who they determine to pose a public safety threat.


“The types of cases addressed by Sheriff Dart (in his letter) are gun cases — but they are gun cases in which nobody was shot or killed,” Milhizer said. “That means the charge is not an inherently violent charge,” he said.

In a letter to Cook County authorities last week, Dart expressed concern that bond changes had led to a dramatic increase in the number of gun offenders released from Cook County Jail on electronic monitors. In response, he said, his office has begun to make changes: shifting staff, conducting a more thorough vetting process and, if necessary, declaring detainees too risky for the anklets altogether.


But Preckwinkle’s letter, citing Dart’s own data, pointed out that out of 195 alleged gun offenders released pretrial since bond changes took effect, just five had picked up a new gun charge as of Feb. 1. And felony gun charges have remained constant, Preckwinkle said, indicating that no increased safety threat can be attributed to bond decisions about gun offenses.

But it is too early to declare a victory on recidivism, said Cara Smith, Dart’s chief policy officer, citing concerns that gun suspects are sent straight back to the city’s most violent neighborhoods.


“While certainly the rearrest rate is very relevant, I think also what we’re saying is, isn’t the stability of the community an equally relevant factor to take into account?” she said.

Dart’s letter was intended to alert Preckwinkle that the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program was not meant for violent offenders and that adjustments will have to be made in light of the number of alleged gun offenders freed on the electronic monitors, Smith said.



Many of those changes are already in effect, Smith said, including a more stringent review of defendants given monitoring to determine whether they are eligible in the first place.

From Friday through Sunday, the office reviewed 11 detainees who face gun charges and only two were found to be eligible for electronic monitoring after a preliminary review, Smith said.

“One of the offenders I reviewed today had over 50 arrests,” Smith said. “We’re seeing a dramatic change in who judges are sending to our EM program, and we’re going to respond by just putting another set of eyes and another evaluation of those offenders.”

Preckwinkle and Dart have both been vocal opponents of the cash-bond system in which judges require defendants to put down money to secure their release from jail while awaiting trial.

Critics say the system unfairly punishes the poor and that defendants charged with violent offenses who sometimes have easy access to cash because of gang ties can be back out on the street within days.

In July, as part of the bond overhaul push, Evans announced that judges would be required to set bail only in amounts that defendants could afford to pay in an effort to ensure that people charged with nonviolent crimes weren't languishing in jail simply because they didn't have the cash, sometimes only a few hundred dollars, to post for bond.


Judges have treated felony gun charges in a dramatically different way since the bond changes were implemented in September, according to data from the sheriff's office, handing out cash bonds in proportionally fewer cases and releasing more alleged gun offenders on electronic monitoring.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com



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