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Group to rally in support of Kim Foxx as challengers emerge
A coalition that helped elect the Cook County state's attorney asserts that while fewer people have been locked up, there has not been a spike in violent crime—a response to detractors who say she has been soft on offenders.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

As candidates begin to emerge from the woodwork ahead of the 2020 elections, a coalition of groups that helped elect Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx are saying while fewer people have been locked up, there has not been a spike in violent crime.

The brief report set to be released today from progressive groups Reclaim Chicago, the People’s Lobby, and the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice says while incarceration sentences dropped by 19 percent in Foxx’s second year in office, reports of violent crime also dropped. The group says the data "suggests that sentencing more people to incarceration doesn’t make us safer."

“Incarceration disrupts what little security and stability people have, hurting entire communities by separating parents from children, workers from employment and caregivers from the people who need them most,” the group said, adding that Foxx has been "smart" rather than "tough" on crime.

In a statement, Foxx said she was "extremely proud that the smart strategies we have implemented have led to decreases in both violent crime and incarceration rates in communities disproportionately impacted by inequities in our criminal justice system. Through our unprecedented transparency, we will continue to share and be driven by our data as we work for a safer and more just Cook County."

The group's findings echoed similar Foxx defenses from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has sparred over crime statistics and bond guidelines regarding gun offenders with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Foxx faces a potential primary challenge from Preckwinkle foe Richard Boykin, who told the Sun-Times that victims of violent crimes "get the sense that pretty much the state's attorney isn't there for them." Former Cook County Judge and prosecutor Pat O'Brien also told the paper he plans to run against Foxx as a Republican, arguing that the "only people who can say they are safer are the people committing crimes." And Bill Conway, a former prosecutor under Foxx predecessor Anita Alvarez, is also contemplating a run, the Sun-Times reported.

Today's report compares Foxx's sentencing data with FBI crime statistics for the city of Chicago—not all of Cook County.

The total number of violent crimes reported by the Chicago Police Department—which includes robbery, rape, aggravated assault, murder and manslaughter—fell from 14,007 incidents by June of 2017 to 12,987 at the same time a year later, according to preliminary FBI statistics.

That's a decline of just over seven percent. It leaves out some of Chicago's typically violent summer months, but is an improvement on the FBI's nationwide numbers, which showed a decrease in violent crime by 4.3 percent over the same period.

FELONY CHARGES

Violent crime in Chicago rose overall between 2014 and 2016, when Chicago saw 765 murders—the highest rate in two decades. It fell slightly from 2016 to 2017, from 30,126 incidents to 29,737. That included a drop in murders, assaults and robberies, but an increasing number of rapes.

The group—which is holding a press conference today—credits several changes in Foxx's office for the drop in sentences that result in a lockup. Foxx cut down drastically on the number of felony charges for retail theft, only going after those who face charges to $1,000 or greater, rather than $300.

Foxx has also used more diversion programs than her predecessor, including treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, the group says.

The third is a new culture at the office, which policy analyst Sarah Staudt at the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice says is welcome. "During Anita Alvarez’s administration, prosecutors were directed to offer the same plea deal in all cases of a certain type: for example, always asking for three years incarceration on certain types of gun possession cases. Prosecutors who deviated from these policies were often harshly reprimanded and felt they were denied advancement opportunities and placed their jobs at risk."

LONG-TERM TRENDS

Benjamin Ruddell, the director of criminal justice policy at the ACLU of Illinois, said he's hesitant to assign blame or credit to anyone in particular for Chicago's crime rate.

"It's kind of like when the economy goes up or down—does the president deserve credit? They might in some ways. In other ways, there are things that can happen to drive trends in violence that may be beyond the control of any prosecutor or mayor," Ruddell said.

"What we need to be looking at in terms of violence is a long-term violent trend and reduce the year-over-year numbers over a long period of time—then we can talk about who deserves credit for that," he said. But, he noted, "I think the decline in violence during this period, when Kim Foxx has been taking a different tack with regard to prosecuting lower level crimes like retail theft and drug possession, it's not incompatible with a reduction in violent crime."

Ruddell commended Foxx for shifting policies that state lawmakers have not moved on, suggesting that the felony retail theft threshold should be higher and drug possession charges should be considered misdemeanors. "She deserves some credit for the decline in the state prison population," he said.

PROBATION PROGRAMS

Foxx's office pointed out that a new law effective at the start of 2018 might have also helped drive lower incarcerations.

The First Time Weapon Offender Program allows young defendants charged with Unlawful Use of Weapons—known as a UUW—or Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon to be placed in a special probation program and potentially have charges dismissed.

These reforms are part of a larger change in Cook County's criminal justice system. Chief Judge Timothy Evans has pursued changes to pretrial lockup via bond court.



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