Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson
Credit: File photo by Stacey Rupolo

The quality of the Chicago Police Department’s vaunted new “gun offender dashboard” can be judged by the summary sentences just below the supposed breakdown of bond decisions. As of Thursday morning, it read: “In the given period, there have been 1,187 firearm related felony arrests that include [any class of] felony charge. Of these arrests, 1,187 have posted bond out of Cook County …”

Which, of course, is absurd.

Later Thursday, the portal was updated to state that 740 arrestees had bonded out of jail. That is also inaccurate, as is the number for individuals who are “in custody,” which is supposed to include arrestees where “bond was denied or bond was not made,” according to Sarah Staudt of the Chicago Appleseed Fund.  

In fact, the “in custody” number (442 as of Thursday) only includes individuals with no-bond orders. Staudt did a check of individuals counted among those whose bond or conditions of release were set by a judge — who are included in the portal’s figure for having posted bond — and found a number of people with high money bonds who are in fact still in jail. She says there are many others with parole or probation violations who are also still being held — but are counted in the portal as released.

Staudt adds that the CPD portal includes no accounting of individuals who have received bonds but are confined on electronic monitoring to their homes for 24 hours a day, unless they have judicial permission. If they leave home without permission, they are subject to an additional felony charge. Courts recognize electronic monitoring as confinement, Staudt points out, by granting time-served credit for days on electronic monitoring.

Though it covers a slightly earlier period, the bond court data posted by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans gives a much more nuanced view of reality. Only two-thirds of those given cash bonds had secured their release, and 38.7% of those ordered to electronic monitoring were still in jail, in many cases because they had no place to stay or had an additional outstanding warrant.

In addition, the list of “gun offenders” includes only a small number of people charged with actually committing a violent crime using a gun, according to the Coalition to End Money Bond. Since those people are more frequently denied bond, an undercount of that category would further reduce the proportion of people denied release.

It adds up to this: the claim by CPD’s portal that only 37% of those arrested for weapons offenses are still in custody is simply wrong. The true number is significantly higher.

Supt. Eddie Johnson touted the data portal as an example of the strides CPD is making in transparency. But it is not “transparency” to put up data that is skewed in a manner that is completely misleading, in order to reinforce a false implication that one cause of the city’s gun violence is laxity by bond court judges. It is the opposite of transparency.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli cited other inaccuracies in the CPD data portal — including its listing of arrestees receiving “B Bonds,” which she said do not exist —  and called for the website to be taken down immediately.

Campanelli also addressed the data portal’s conflation of gun possession crimes with “gun offenses,” including “anyone who illegally possesses — and doesn’t shoot — a gun for his or her own protection,” which reflects “the unfortunate reality for too many residents who live in a city that continues to be plagued by gun violence.”

“‘Gun offender’ can also be placed on someone who doesn’t possess a gun at all but may, for example, be sitting in a car where a gun is found — regardless of who the gun actually belongs to. Additionally, someone arrested without a gun can also be labeled a gun offender if “a gun was found in his or her vicinity,” Campanelli said in a press release. 

Evans has reported that between October 2017 — when his bond reform order went into effect — and March 2019, only 70 individuals were charged with new violent gun offenses out of 30,000 who were released from pretrial detention. Bond reform advocates argue that this miniscule percentage shows the bond court’s current risk assessment tool is effective.

On top of the department’s statistical and linguistic obfuscation, Johnson has made a series of statements that distort the role of bond court. He’s called for higher money bonds because “the best way for us to hit them is in their pocketbook.” But the purpose of money bond is to ensure that defendants appear in court, not to punish individuals who haven’t been convicted of a crime. Indeed, the purpose of bond court is to protect accused individual’s rights while accounting for risks of flight and violence.

Johnson has repeatedly used the term “accountability” in discussing bond court decisions. On Monday, for example, he called on bond court judges to help “sending that message of accountability” and stressed “the importance of holding gun offenders accountable and not making it easy for them to return to the streets.”

In our justice system, accountability is administered after a trial in which evidence is presented and evaluated by a judge or jury, not before that. And Cook County isn’t lenient on people convicted of gun possession. Last year, Cook County sent 1,500 people to prison for weapons offenses; while the number of  prison sentences from Cook County fell last year for every other type of offense, they rose for nonviolent weapon offenses. And those individuals get some of the most stringent sentences in the nation, especially compared to some of our neighboring states, where nonviolent gun possession without a permit is a probational offense.

In a city where the police department is under a consent decree for failing to follow the Constitution in enforcing the law, you probably want a police superintendent to have a clear understanding of how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.

And in a city wracked with violence, where building trust with residents is a top priority for the police department, you don’t need websites with bad information.

Curtis is an opinion writer for The Chicago Reporter.

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