CN April 13, 2017


“Lenient judges” and weak laws governing “repeat gun offenders” have been two of the reasons most often cited by Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for Chicago’s appalling street crime and homicide rate. They’ve called repeatedly for stronger laws. Well, now they may have them, at least in part.

It’s been dubbed the Safe Neighborhoods Reform Act.

Senator Kwame Raoul, who sponsored the bill, was able to get it passed out of the Senate last week, and his bill now awaits deliberation in the House. It appears to have Governor Rauner’s support.

But while most of the publicity about Raoul’s bill has focused on increased penalties for “repeat gun offenders”, Raoul tells us there are other components, too.

Here are transcripts of selected remarks the Senator made on today’s show, along with the related time so you can watch the video, too.

(And, by the way, here’s where you can find a complete transcript of the entire one-hour discussion: CN transcript April 13 2017)

Getting a handle on our street violence involves more than just increasing penalties:    (2:55)  I am one who has consistently said there’s no singular element that’s going to do that job. You have to have different components. You have to have investment in communities, but you also have to have accountability for those who are committing these heinous acts. I argue you can’t wait until they shoot somebody to do something about it, so there are those who say the crime of illegal possession shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Well you’ve got to possess before you shoot. So what this does is it focuses in on repeat gun offenders.

The key is making the second and third-time offenses for gun crimes more stringent:   (7:58) The range for unlawful use of a weapon by a felon is 3 to 14. (years.) You sentence somebody who has just been previously sentenced to unlawful use of a weapon or murder or armed robbery or one of the offenses, and who goes out and gets another gun, you sentence them to 3 years. They have access to good time credit and it can cut that in half and if they participate in a rehabilitative program they could be out in a year and a couple of months.

The bill provides for judicial discretion, because mandatory minimums have been criticized for not allowing judges to deviate, or “depart” from the prescribed sentences:  And that is exactly why we created a mechanism within this bill to allow for departure, and we have a host of if you as a judge with the criteria that we allow for departing from the presumed minimum can’t depart for a case that’s worthy of it, then you don’t have the intellectual capacity to be sitting on that bench, because we have a pretty exhaustive list of rationale that you can use to depart.

Raul pushed back on the idea that all of our gun laws are too lenient. We ask, once you have committed a violent gun crime and the Police Department knows that you are a violent criminal who has shot somebody, is it still true that the laws are too lax, that they are too lenient if there’s a second violent offense? (22:29) I don’t think so. I wouldn’t make that argument. What I would say is, and this is part of the argument that’s been made against the bill that I just passed, is that part of the problem has less to do with the sentencing as it does with any apprehension of being caught, and so the (Chicago Police Department) clearance rates are low. What’s the greatest deterrent to crime is fear of being caught.

(33:50) Part of the clearance rate … and sentencing has a part to do with it, but bad tolerance of bad policing over decades has a lot to do with the bad police community relations. And in order to fight crime you need good police community relations. If people don’t trust the police they don’t cooperate with the police. If people don’t cooperate with the police you don’t solve crimes.

The law in question defines as “Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon” the crime of having a gun on your person when arrested. You don’t have to  have used, or brandished the weapon. Raoul says there’s a difference between the first and second occurrences of this crime and that’s where judges come in:   We’re focused on the person that’s more likely to be the shooter. Now the argument has been made, well these are mere possession cases. They haven’t shot anybody yet. 

(35:05) Yeah, but let’s wait for them to shoot the gun, huh? You know, you’ve got to have the tools to deal with these offenders, and you’ve got to have some level of faith that there will be discretion utilized along the way. There are three levels of discretion again, there’s the Chicago Police Department, there’s the State’s Attorney’s Office, and there’s the judiciary.

 I think it’s important for us as policymakers to provide guidance. That’s our job, and in doing so, in your hypothetical one of the things that you illustrated was somebody that’s distinguishable from somebody who did it for the first time. And the implication of your question was that that person should receive a more severe sentence than somebody who did it for the first time. And that’s precisely the aim of the legislation that we’ve proposed.

(29:14) So one of the things we look at is age, right, maturity. We look at whether or not the person is working and a contributor to society. We give that guideline in the bill. See, many people have criticized the bill as just a mandatory minimum, which it’s not, and said, “Well you’re not considering all these factors.” And if they read the bill they would see those factors very clearly enumerated, but you have to read in order to get there.

29:52) We can walk and chew gum. We can work on comprehensive policy that affects violence and hand in hand hold people accountable. We ought not be a society where people feel compelled to carry just to walk down the street. We’ve got to confront that head-on with investment in community. We’ve got to deal with the untreated trauma that makes people have that feeling, right.

Raul doesn’t agree that most judges are “too lenient”:   (42:48) I think every court room is different first of all, and I haven’t analyzed every judge, and so I don’t join the chorus in saying that judges are being too lenient. I think it’s my job as a policymaker to say, “Hey, we expect a repeat gun offender to be treated differently from a first-time offender. Yet we recognize that you judge are the person hearing all the facts of the case and you need the flexibility to depart downward in certain circumstances. And so distinguish my advocacy from the Mayor’s or Eddie Johnson. I’m not pointing the finger at judges. However, I am doing my job as a policymaker saying that yeah, these people should be distinguished from these people, and I don’t think that there’s a strong argument against that.

Sen. Raoul says it’s appropriate to consider someone caught a second time with an illegal gun as someone very close to committing a violent crime:  (50:50) Yeah, that’s a fundamental principal of sort of judicial evaluation and sentencing whether or not you did it before. That’s a fundamental evaluation of parenting, you know. You did this once. I told you it was wrong and you did it again. A teacher in a classroom, somebody has done something once and you may cut him slack. You do it again they get detention or suspension or something.

Sen. Raoul is concerned about the results of yesterday’s FOP election, in which a large majority of Chicago’s police officers voted for Kevin Graham as their new union leader. It signals tougher contract negotiations, and possibly a greater resistance to police reform efforts:   (38:20) Yeah, it’s a challenging development given that during the midst of negotiating a contract, a contract that has been a bit overly protective and created a circumstance where it’s a little bit more difficult for people to get to the truth of a lot of the incidents, so we’ll see how that develops when the contract is negotiated. One thing that I’ve advocated for is licensing of law enforcement officers. I’m an attorney, I’ve got to be licensed. Medical professionals have to be licensed. Hair dressers and barbers have to be licensed. There’s got to be another layer of accountability beyond just what happens at the local department.

You can also listen to this program on your phone.  Here’s the SoundCloud link.





About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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