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How the Tribune analyzed court outcomes for domestic violence cases

Wednesday, May 01, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by David Jackson and Madeline Buckley

To analyze the outcomes of recent Chicago domestic violence cases, Tribune reporters examined more than 1,000 police reports of aggravated domestic battery from 2016 and a similar number from 2018, following the progress of each case through the Cook County courts. The reporters started with police reports rather than basing the analysis on charges ultimately filed by prosecutors because this method provided a broader picture of the experiences of domestic battery victims and enabled reporters to analyze prosecutors’ charging decisions in the years before and after recent court reforms went into effect. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads Tribune reporters also determined that their case-tracking method was the only one feasible given limits on court data made public by Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans. Under a longstanding rule imposed on the Tribune and other news outlets, Evans allows the court clerk to release bulk court docketing data — the official record of all actions in each case — only if all identifying information is removed from cases that have not resulted in a conviction, including the case number. That prevents reporters from examining details contained in the relevant police reports and from piecing together the criminal histories of the alleged attackers, as well as any orders of protection. Paid Post LEARN MORE Endometriosis Pain May Affect More Than Your Body. Want to learn more about life with endometriosis? The truth can be difficult to share with people - even those closest to you. SPONSORED CONTENT BY AbbVie Foxx’s office maintains an online portal through which the public can analyze court docketing data, but it is limited to felony cases. Foxx’s senior staff told the Tribune they stopped tracking the outcomes of misdemeanor domestic violence cases after 2016, when Foxx took office. That portal also masks the case number and identity of all defendants. The public data maintained by the Chicago police shows the department handles roughly 27,000 domestic battery reports per year. Reporters chose to track outcomes for aggravated domestic batteries, a smaller of number of cases that involve the serious allegation that the attacker intentionally injured or disfigured an intimate partner or family member. Reports of aggravated domestic battery are identified in the police department’s public data under five UCR codes — the acronym stands for “uniform crime reporting” — that are established according to FBI and state police guidelines: 0488 (with a handgun), 0489 (with a non-handgun firearm, such as a rifle), 0496 (with a knife or cutting instrument), 0497 (with another dangerous weapon) and 0498 (with hands, fist or feet causing serious injury). That search showed these crimes were reported to Chicago police about 2,000 times in 2016 and 2,500 times in 2018. For two of the most prevalent UCRs — aggravated domestic battery with a knife (0496) and with a “dangerous weapon” that is not a gun (0497) — reporters limited the comparison to the first six months of 2016 and 2018 to produce a manageable sample size. This process excluded about about 900 police reports from 2016 and 1,000 from 2018. For one category — UCR 0498 — the police data showed a 130 percent rise in cases from 2016 to 2018 — a steeper increase than for the other categories of aggravated domestic battery. The increase could reflect an uptick in actual crimes, more reporting from citizens, a change in the way police assign UCR numbers — or some combination of factors. Tribune reporters found no changes in police directives for classifying these 0498 cases. For each report of aggravated domestic battery in the Tribune’s analysis, reporters checked whether charges resulted and analyzed the court outcomes for cases that did. This work was done by hand; reporters searched for each police “records division number” in Cook County Circuit Court computers, then analyzed the docket — a record of all court actions taken in each case. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads Reporters focused on these key questions: Were there court charges for this case? What type of bond was imposed at the defendant’s initial pretrial hearing — a recognizance bond or a detainer bond? What was the dollar amount? Did prosecutors dismiss the case before trial? In all, reporters analyzed 2,672 police reports of aggravated domestic battery (some of which ultimately resulted in prosecutors filing different charges). These reports led to 702 court prosecutions: 394 in 2018 and 308 in 2016. Reporters also examined thousands of pages of criminal court files as well as separate paperwork filed in family court. They interviewed victims and their families, alleged assailants, victim advocates and other experts.


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