Chicago: Despite skyrocketing murders, judges keep choosing electronic monitoring over jail for violent-crime suspects

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CHICAGO, IL – Judges in the Windy City have increasingly placed criminal defendants into an electronic-monitoring program instead of jail, and police blame the surge in gun shootings on the violent offenders participating in it.

Police Supt. David Brown said many of those being set free on electronic monitoring are responsible for the steep rise in killings this year in Chicago, according to Chicago Sun Times:

“My hope is that the deaths of these young people will not be in vain and will prick the hearts of the decision-makers who release violent offenders on electronic monitoring back into these very communities to mete out this kind of violence every weekend.”

Brown made the comment after a bloody Independence Day weekend during which two children, ages 7 and 14, were killed.

On Aug. 9, 43 people facing murder charges were enrolled in Cook County’s electronic-monitoring program, a 40 percent increase from the same day last year. In addition, 160 people charged with robbery and 1,000 people charged with illegal gun possession were also enrolled as of Aug. 9, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The Chicago Police Department has cited the increase in program participants who would otherwise be granted high bail or remanded to police custody for the spike in gun shootings.

Although none of the three men charged in the shooting death of 7-year-old Natalia Wallace over the holiday weekend was ordered into the monitoring program, the police department gave the newspaper several examples of defendants charged with violent crimes who committed more offenses while subject to electronic monitoring.

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One is Chrishawn Thomas, 18, accused of robbing a female driver in March at gunpoint. Police say he was granted $500 bail and placed on electronic monitoring, but weeks later, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office received an “unauthorized leave” alert related to Thomas.

Hours later, he allegedly shot an off-duty Chicago police officer during an attempted robbery. The officer returned fire and hit Thomas in the legs. Thomas was arrested and is now being held without bail.

People typically placed on electronic monitoring are usually required to stay home with exceptions typically made for school or work.

Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Chicago Police Department has blamed Cook County judges’ skyrocketing use of electronic monitoring as contributing to the city’s 50 percent rise in killings this year.

However, Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx has denied claims that the people free on bail are responsible for Chicago’s increase in violent crime.

Foxx said one statistic shows that most of the 1,800 arrests for illegal gun possession in the first half of the year only had only 26 repeat offenders, the newspaper reported.

The violence could be attributed to a decrease in traffic stops and arrests by police due to Covid-19. Brown said:

“The shock waves throughout this department, throughout the country, were significant as it relates to, ‘What is COVID? Will I take this back to my family?’ And so there was a drop-off in police interactions with people, No. 1.”

Correctional facilities throughout the country have similarly reduced their inmate populations in an effort to prevent infections.

Brown noted at a press conference on June 29 that electronic monitoring and low bond amounts endanger everyone:

“We need the help of the entire criminal justice system, our city partners and, most importantly, our community members, to step up and not only help us identify these perpetrators of violence, but to keep them off our streets until they get their day in court and to keep these violent offenders locked up and off our streets.

“The street corner, open-air drug market is the pipeline to shootings and murders in Chicago.

“Electronic monitoring and low bond amounts given to offenders endangers our residents and flies in the face of the hard work our police officers put in on a daily basis to take them off the streets.

“This will make our community safer. I will continue to bring attention to the sheer number of repeat offenders who are given little to no jail time and low bonds and are placed on electronic monitoring that are not monitored by anyone, and go on to commit more crimes, like last week.

“Leroy Battle, who was arrested in August of 2018 for UUW [carrying a weapon illegally] and pled guilty and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation with special conditions — what did he do?

“He shot and killed two teenage boys on 79th and Luella on Father’s Day weekend. With the help of our community members, we were able to charge Leroy Battle for these heinous crimes that robbed two teens of their futures.”

Brown further pleaded:

“We must, we must keep violent offenders in jail longer. They shouldn’t get out early. If they get three years, do three years.

“New York did this. L.A. did this. And they’re just as liberal as Chicago. Chicago can do this. We can have under 300 murders. But we have to keep violent offenders in jail longer.”

Low morale may also be another factor explaining fewer traffic stops and arrests.

John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the police do not feel they have Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s full support:

“It’s going to cause officers to pause and say: ‘I want to go home today safe. I want to make sure I keep my job. And I want to make sure I don’t go to jail.’ It’s not going to be ‘react first’ unless it’s a life-and-death situation. They’re going to stop and think first before they act.”

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has been a proponent of quickly granting bail to defendants who are found by judges to pose no threat to public safety.

Evans said judges “must balance the right of the defendant to be presumed innocent with any evidence that the defendant would pose a real and present threat to the physical safety of any person.”

More than 3,330 people in Cook County are being monitored electronicly, which is up from 2,200 last year, according to the Times.

In an Aug. 18 press release, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office announced changes due to the continued increase of criminal defendants court-ordered to the Sheriff’s Electronic Monitoring (EM) program, which has 3,300 participants:

“The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has made the administrative decision to formally transition all EM equipment from radio frequency units to GPS bracelets.”

The transition is expected to be complete by October, and the new bracelets will allow messages to be sent to the person wearing it if they are not complying with the program.

Vibrations, tones and voice calls will be used to communicate with the person wearing the bracelet.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, an anti-gun violence activist and priest at St. Sabina Church in the South Side Auburn Gresham neighborhood, said:

“What was called the Windy City is now turning into the Bloody City. If we don’t stop this, then Chicago’s going to become known as not a safe place for children. Once that happens, we’ve lost the soul of our city.”

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