The Blame Game: Who won the Lightfoot-Preckwinkle brawl over Chicago’s gun violence?

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CHICAGO — This summer as Chicago gun violence raged, local leaders pointed fingers in a battle of city verses the county.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle threw the first punch penning an angry letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

"I am concerned that the false narrative being put forward by Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson places significant blame on Cook County's reformed bail system as the root cause for gun violence," she wrote in the letter.

“It's not, as he suggested, the result of judges allowing people who need to be in jail to be out on the streets,” Preckwinkle said later.

Instead, Preckwinkle said the real problem was the police department's dismal rate of solving murders. She called on her former campaign rival to fire Johnson.

But Lightfoot sided with the city’s top cop and lashed out at her vanquished opponent.

“The election is over and we had a result,” she said.

Lightfoot and Johnson launched a public offensive to highlight examples of judges and prosecutors being too lenient.

Johnson unveiled the “Gun Offender Dashboard,” a way for the public to track felony gun cases through the court system.

“This is just merely an attempt to be transparent with everything that's going on in the judicial system,” he said.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli criticized it.

“Even sex offenders don't go on a registry until they've been convicted,” she said. “Stop writing false police reports, stop harassing people in certain neighborhoods and arresting whoever you feel like because they're black and brown.”

And on and on it went.

The mayor dubbed the back and forth an “ongoing tussle in the media.”

Experts in gun violence prevention and the criminal justice watched. Some picked sides.

Stephanie Kollmann is policy director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern's Law School.

“I think it is absurd to suggest in a city where nine out of 10 shootings are not associated with any arrest at all, that it’s what happens in court that is making people unsafe,” she said. “I don’t understand how anyone can suggest that in a straight face.”

Kollmann said rather than blaming the courts, officials should devise a comprehensive plan to respond to gun violence.

“I think it’s a really easy political solution to change the focus of attention from an executive branch decision to a series of decisions that are made in the city of Chicago to courts in the county or the state legislature,” she said.

She calls what the city is doing a “shell game.”

“A shell game is a way to misdirect attention and hide what you're doing,” she said. “It started this issue of gun possessions (and) certainly was concentrated with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Garry McCarthy. Superintendent Johnson and Mayor Lightfoot have continued this pattern of referring to people who posses guns in the city as gun offenders. … I’m not quite sure what a gun offender is but I can tell you that the definition on the dashboard is that it’s someone who may have a FOID card and be a lawful gun owner who walks outside their apartment because they hear a noise and therefore has a gun in public.”

But that’s not who police say they’re worried about. Their concern is the individual who gets arrested on felony gun charges, released, and then re-arrested.

WGN recently reviewed data on every felony gun case this past Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend and found 87% of adults charged with felony weapons offenses were released on bond. Of the 118 people charged, only 9% were refused bail.

For 30 years, Duane Deskins worked as a federal prosecutor in Chicago, Boston and Cleveland. He said the various city and county stakeholders must come together to address gun crime.

“The right answer is always going to be cooperation and synchronization,” he said. “It's not a matter of I’m right, you’re wrong. It’s really a matter of can you find a way to work together for all of our sake’s to put aside the differences of prior elections and look toward a common and more safe and healthier community.”

Deskins said he does not see a plan.

“I went to work in the Cleveland office and put together a strategic plan in writing using a $2.5 million federal grant,” he said. “We were able to get homicides down six of 10 years. And when I say down, less than 100. It’s not the amount of money you have, it’s not the number of organizations you have, it’s whether there’s a synchronization behind it.”

Max Kapustin is a research director at the University of Chicago Crime Lab working with the city to come up with ways to reduce gun violence. He is analyzing city, county and federal gun data through the GunStat initiative.

“I don't think we know enough really to be able to adjudicate who's right,” he said. “I'm hoping that this Gunstat initiative will really, for the first time, lay down a common foundation that we can all operate off of. … The data exists and we are currently in the very process of trying to pull them together and have those informed conversations so that we can get to this shared understanding. We're close. But we're not quite there yet.”

As the crime lab crunches the numbers, Kollmann and Deskins are promoting solutions.

“I think (leaders) should invest in Chicago neighborhoods equitably,” Kollmann said. “I think you should concentrate your policing resources in a way that ensures that police are doing the job that is most important for them to do. Are they investigating murders responsibly and in a way that supports community witnesses?”

Deskins agreed.

“We need to do more in violent crime cases (so) that people who step forward are going be protected,” he said. “A witness protection program or some resources that are being put towards putting people safe. … Given the long history of violence in this city, one would hope that we could find a way to come together and put down our aspirations in writing and our plan in writing and move forward as a unit as a group, as a city as citizens.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle have lowered the temperature and have met face-to-face since their dustup this summer. CPD proudly boasts that its murder clearance rate has risen from 29% to 47%. The Marshal Project found that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office is prosecuting fewer cases across every category of crime, except unlawful use of a weapon.

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Part 1: How a history of segregation contributes to an epidemic of violence in Chicago 


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