As autumn arrived in 2021, Chicago’s bloodiest year in a generation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) was feeling the heat.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the office out publicly after its prosecutors refused to file any charges against men who participated in a brazen daylight shootout captured on video.
“We’ve gotta be able to explain to people on that block and across the city why it is when you have this kind of evidence, a videotape showing exactly what happened, why charges weren’t brought?” the mayor said. The CCSAO said it would consider charges again if police presented more evidence.
A month earlier, the public learned that prosecutors, led since December 2016 by Kim Foxx, refused to file charges against a man in the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl. Other cases were making headlines, too.
Foxx started pushing back against the narrative that her office was going easy on violent criminals in a city overrun by shootings and carjackings.
A key talking point in the PR campaign was that Foxx’s office approved felony charges in 86% of the cases police brought to them for review. She hit the point hard during a March 4 speech that the CCSAO called her “State of the State’s Attorney’s Office Address.”
“The state’s attorney said that, contrary to what her critics say, she approves charges in most — 86% — of the felony cases brought to her by Chicago and suburban police,” Fox Chicago reported.
In a colorful handout that accompanied her speech, Foxx’s office repeated the claim: “In 2021, the CCSAO approved 86% of felony charges presented for review.” A graphic box on the page highlights the 86% approval rate.
Two weeks ago, in a press release announcing her plans to seek “resentencing” for three convicted felons, the office said, “the Foxx administration is … maintaining a nearly 90% approval rate for felony cases.”
But an analysis of the CCSAO’s publicly-available data shows that the office’s felony approval rate last year was nowhere close to 90% or even 86%. It was 79%. Through 2021, the average felony approval rate at the end of each year during Foxx’s administration is 74%, far lower than the 85% average rate of the six years before she took office, the data shows.
When cops bring felony charges to prosecutors for review, there are generally three possible outcomes: The case can be approved, rejected, or returned for “continued investigation,” meaning prosecutors want more evidence.
It turns out, in an effort to counter claims that her office was not approving cases, Foxx’s office decided not to include cases that were continued for investigation (CI) in their calculation.
“We do not include CI’ed cases because there has not been a final decision made and the investigation continues,” the office confirmed in an emailed statement. But those cases were brought to them for approval by police and the office has been claiming that it approves 86% of cases that police bring to them.
If you think that’s odd, you’re not alone. The Chicago Appleseed Center For Fair Courts, which works to find “anti-racist solutions to systematic injustices and fight for their implementation,” includes CI’ed cases when it calculates Foxx’s “rejection rate.”
The CCSAO statement continued, “It is also important to note that 93% of cases reviewed during the Foxx administration have ended up with a final decision. Of the small amount of cases that have been Ci’d under the Foxx administration, 68% have ended up with a final decision and those are then included in our data. Of CI’ed cases with a final decision, the majority of them, 87% end up being approved.”
On average, Foxx’s office CI’s slightly more than 9% of cases annually, while the previous administration ordered further investigation about 5% of the time.
Homicides, shootings, carjackings continued
At the end of last year, the CCSAO had approved 57% of homicide cases that police brought to them for review in 2021. That’s in line with the year-end average for Foxx’s administration and lower than the 62% average rate of the six years before she took office.
But other violent crimes, including carjackings, are being CI’ed at sometimes much-higher rates under Foxx.
“For carjackings, which I know many of us are rightfully afraid of,” Foxx told WTTW in February, “we have an approval rate of charges of over 90%.”
In fact, when CI’ed carjackings are counted, the hijacking approval rate was not over 90%. It was 75%. At the end of last year, 20% of 2021’s carjacking cases were classified CI. The office still had 21% of the hijackings from 2020 in CI status, too.
Non-fatal shooting cases are also more likely to be CI’ed under Foxx. The CI rate for those cases at the end of last year was 17%, and the year-end average under Foxx is 31%. It averaged 21% in the six years before she was sworn in.
But the office outright rejected charges in another 21% of non-fatal shootings last year, the data shows.
During the heat of last fall’s criticism, Foxx’s team also conducted a behind-the-scenes PR campaign aimed directly at Chicago’s 50 aldermen. The CCSAO created ward-level statistical reports and emailed them to the individual aldermen. Two aldermen provided CWB Chicago with copies of the emails and reports they received from Foxx’s office.
“The data … show the CCSAO approves charges for adult felony arrests in Chicago at a rate of 88 percent and in Cook County at a rate of 88 percent,” the office wrote in emails that accompanied the customized reports.
“Open, transparent data, like the attached, prevents misinformation and creates a common understanding so that we can better collectively work to reduce crime in Cook County.”
But, once again, Foxx’s office drove up its “approval” percentage by not including CI’ed cases in the calculations. Although, there is a disclaimer, tagged at the end of a lengthy footnote at the bottom of page 2: “CI’ed case numbers are not included here.”
Foxx’s office puts the responsibility for clearing up CI’ed cases on the police.
“For a final decision to be made on a CI’ed case, it requires the arresting agency to bring the case back to the CCSAO for approval,” the office statement said. “Though we cannot control whether the arresting agency will do that, we do have an ongoing process to review previously CI’ed cases and to reach out to the appropriate arresting agency.”
Yet some police detectives have told CWB Chicago that getting a CI’ed case approved can be an unnecessarily long and frustrating process under Foxx’s administration.
In one example, a string of different prosecutors required Chicago cops to complete an ever-changing list of tasks while refusing to file charges against a man who was seen on video kicking a taxi driver in the head, resulting in the victim’s death. The repeated delays allowed the killer to escape the country and evade prosecution.
In the case of the “Wild West” shootout, prosecutors did approve gun charges against one of the alleged shooters last month. They also approved charges in the slaying of the 7-year-old girl two weeks after the decision to CI the matter turned into a media spectacle.
Editor’s note: In its emailed statement, the CCSAO pointed out cases CI’ed in past years have “had more time for that investigation to continue and a final determination to be made.” To provide a level comparison, we reconstructed end-of-year CI rates for 2011-2020 by adjusting them for cases that received approval or rejection from prosecutors in a subsequent year.