A group of high-level officials from the state, Cook County, and city all agreed to never speak negatively about each other as they worked to reduce the county’s jail population, according to a 2019 email authored by Susan Lee, who was Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top public safety advisor at the time. Some might call the agreement a “code of silence.”
But city leaders, who apparently didn’t actively participate in the panel’s activities, broke the deal by blaming low bond amounts and quick jail releases for increasing violence in the city during the summer of 2019. Lee’s message was included in a massive leak of city hall emails.
Members of the exclusive no-criticism group included the Cook County Chief Judge’s Office and prosecutors, according to Lee.
“They had issues with [CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson’s] comments around attributing violence to the people bonding out and [the] Mayor’s similar comment,” Lee wrote. “Apparently, there was an agreement early on in the group that members of this collaborative would not publicly criticize each other on this issue,” Lee told other top mayoral advisors.
The city’s no-criticism infraction caused Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to lash out in a letter to Lightfoot, which was quickly leaked to the media. Chief Judge Timothy Evans, also a member of the group, fought back with a letter to the Sun-Times.
According to Lee, the public criticism of bond practices and jail releases were “all related” to Preckwinkle’s letter.
“You know we have some real challenges in the City of Chicago around violence, but they’re not challenges that result from our criminal justice reforms,” Preckwinkle said in her letter to Lightfoot.
Calling Johnson’s code-breaking statements “infuriating” and a “false narrative,” Preckwinkle went on to blame him for the city’s violence, citing CPD’s low murder clearance rate.
Lightfoot held a press conference after Preckwinkle’s letter went public to cite statistics from the recently-concluded Fourth of July weekend. Of the 76 people CPD arrested for gun crimes that weekend, 18 were repeat gun offenders, and ten of those repeat gun offenders were given an “opportunity to get back out on the streets,” Lightfoot claimed.
The mayor went on to criticize the tool Cook County’s court system uses to predict the risks an accused person might pose if released. The program didn’t even consider unauthorized use of a weapon charges, Illinois’ typical illegal gun charge, in its calculation, she claimed.
Lightfoot told reporters that “various county actors…have to be part of the solution.” The mayor challenged the courts and CPD “put our data out on a weekly basis…Who’s getting arrested. What are the charges? What are the bond decisions being made?”
Preckwinkle poo-pooed that idea, according to the Sun-Times.
“We can go back and forth all day about statistics,” she said. “The public doesn’t care about spreadsheets, they care about solutions and results.”
Preckwinkle slammed the city narrative as an effort to put the blame for increasing violence on “county judges, county prosecutors — and their failure to do their job and that’s simply not true,” the Sun-Times reported.