With crime concerns high, “a lot of changes” are needed in state’s year-old criminal justice reform law, senator says

A Lakeview community group’s Zoom meeting about rising crime was the place to be Thursday evening.

Two aldermen called the city’s policing strategy a failure.

A state senator who championed Illinois’ year-old criminal justice reform bill said legislators need to “make a lot of changes” to the law.

And a supervisor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dispensed flatly untrue information about the number of people who commit new crimes while on bond.

Thursday’s meeting, organized by East Lake View Neighbors, was a hot ticket. The Zoom feed reached its 100-person limit well before the meeting began. State Rep. Jaime Andrade (40th) streamed the feed on Facebook to accommodate the overflow.

Aldermen: CPD strategy is not working

“We need people to be out and not be afraid,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said in response to concerns about street crime from a woman who happens to live near his home. “The idea of staying in our homes, I don’t believe that’s the answer.”

Tunney said he and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) have pressed Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPD Supt. David Brown to replenish staffing losses in the Town Hall (19th) Police District, which patrols Lakeview and nearby neighborhoods.

“We’re probably down 20% over the committed level at the beginning of the Lightfoot administration,” Tunney said. “We need our resources back in 19.”

City records show Town Hall was staffed by 382 cops when Lightfoot took office in May 2019. That quickly increased to 416 cops. But the number has been sliding ever since, reaching just over 300 as of last month

“Do the math and see the consequences,” Tunney advised.

Every CPD district has lost significant numbers of patrol officers under Brown’s crime-fighting strategy, which reassigned cops from local patrols to units covering the entire city.

“I don’t think the citywide approach is working,” Tunney said. “The holistic strategy is not working citywide, and it’s not working in 19.”

Cappleman agreed: “We need more resources and need it now.”

“We’re gonna have to go back and make a lot of changes”

State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (6th), who was a proud supporter of last year’s massive criminal justice reform bill, appeared to have a severe case of buyer’s remorse during the Zoom session.

“We are looking very closely to some of the reforms that we enacted,” Feigenholtz said. “It’s a big bill, and we’re gonna have to go back and make a lot of changes and remediate.”

“I don’t think that anybody bargained for repeat offenders and people who were in possession of a gun and accused of violent crime to be released on a [recognizance] bond,” she continued.

It’s not clear why she has that feeling. The reform bill eliminates cash bail entirely as of next January.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Feigenholtz said.

Baloney

The only speakers on the call who didn’t seem to think there were any problems with the current state of affairs were from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Assistant State’s Attorney Aileen Bhandari was particularly bold with her defense of bail reform.

And by bold, we mean her defense was categorically false. (See our story update at the end of this report.)

“I think Loyola University did a study recently, and it was on the pretrial end. I believe it was like 97% of people on [bond] weren’t getting arrested again,” Bhandari told the viewers. “I mean, those are the numbers, but there’s a misconception that those are not the numbers.”

No, those are not the numbers. Those are not the numbers at all.

The Loyola study, later refuted by a University of Utah study, found that 17% of defendants were charged with new crimes while on bail in Cook County. The study was based on six months of data from late 2017 and early 2018.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office released a report in June 2021 that showed 18.2% of people on felony bond are charged with new crimes while on bail. That number has steadily increased since Evans’ office began publishing the reports in late 2017. The office has not issued a new report since last summer.

So, while Bhandari would have the group believe that only 3% of people on bond are charged with new crimes, the actual number is about six times higher, according to the study she cited and the chief judge’s office.

Later, Bhandari threw out another whopper. Referring again to the Loyola study, Bhandari said:

“In 2020 … there was over 6,000 shootings, and of those, 1.5% of those shootings were linked to anyone out on bond. And there was about 1,000 people arrested for those shootings and over 90% of those people were not out on bail.”

Okay. One step at a time here.

As mentioned before, the Loyola study looked at court data from 2018 and earlier. It did not look at shootings from 2020.

It’s not clear where she came up with 6,000 shootings in 2020, either. The city of Chicago had 715 murders by gunfire and 3,451 non-fatal shooting victims in 2020. That gets you to about 4,200.

She claims 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with those shootings. That’s interesting because, according to Chicago’s data portal, only 390 of that year’s murders and shootings have resulted in arrests.

And how did she go from 1.5% of shootings weren’t linked to people on bond to over 90% not being linked to people on bond? Who knows.

Blah blah blah

Feigenholtz had had enough.

“You talk about a Loyola study and blah blah blah,” the senator countered. “when you [also] say you can’t tell us, you can’t give us data on who has violated conditions of their electronic monitoring and bond?”

“That would be useful for our next meeting,” the Zoom moderator added. “It’s an excellent point.”

“Perhaps if … somebody from the state’s attorney’s office could attend and have those numbers because it’s an excellent point.”

Bhandari didn’t seem to have the answer: “I don’t know how those numbers, because there’s a combination between the clerk’s office, bail bonds being filed ….”

As Bhandari was rambling, two CWB writers watching the Zoom turned and looked at each other knowingly.

She had just said something out loud and in public that we had been told in an off-the-record conversation about the county’s bond reform statistics. To an average listener, what she said probably didn’t even make sense. But it made sense to us because we have been told the same thing in more coherent language privately. Thanks to Bhandari’s public statements, we can report it now. Stay tuned.

Update January 7, 2022, 4:40 p.m. — Matthew Saniie, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s data chief, clarified Bhandari’s statements in a telephone conversation this afternoon.

Regarding her statement that 97% of people on bond were not arrested again, the Loyola study actually found that 97% of people on bond were not arrested for a new violent crime.

Regarding 2020 shootings, the correct statement would be that there have been over 6,000 shootings since 2020 and over 90% of the people charged in those crimes were not out on felony bail, according to Saniie. He said the source for that information is CWBChicago’s reporting.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com