Last year, there were 781 murders in Chicago — more than Los Angeles and New York combined. Violence here reached levels not seen since the 1990s. The trend has continued this year.
Why, then, some aldermen want to know, does the city’s gun offender registry have just 1,484 names?
That doesn’t even count an additional 458 people who are required to register, but haven’t done so.
Not to mention there have been only 100 arrests since Jan. 1.
“I’m incredulous. With all the gun violence, with all the gun arrests, with all of the gun convictions, I cannot understand how there are only 2,000 people currently required to register as gun offenders,” Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) said during a joint committee hearing Tuesday.
“It defies logic. There’s a glitch someplace. It certainly wasn’t the intent,” he said.
North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) agreed.
“We had 3,000 people shot or more last year. Multiply that by the last five years. How many people have been arrested? How many guns have been taken off the street? I have to believe that there are more of these gun offenders who are living in Chicago unregistered,” Osterman said.
Deputy Chief Kathleen Boehmer of the Chicago Police Department’s criminal registration unit said the low numbers have a lot to do with the narrow wording of the four-year-old registry gun ordinance championed by Burke.
It applies only to those who live in the city, have been convicted of gun offenses in the prior four years, have been released from prison and return to Chicago. Homeless people are required to register each week.
“If they don’t live in Chicago, they’re not eligible to be in our database. If they’re still doing their time — and the ordinance is only four years old — they may still be doing some of their sentence,” Boehmer said.
Burke countered, “Not if what we read about the sentences that they’re getting, they wouldn’t be behind bars.”
Boehmer parried: “Which brings up the issue of if they’re convicted. They need to be convicted.”
Burke noted that he patterned the gun registry ordinance after Maryland’s “very robust” gun offender registry with the intent of arming police officers with the information they need to be “on heightened alert” when they make an otherwise routine traffic stop that may not be routine at all.
Instead, aldermen learned Tuesday that the Chicago Police Department is notified when a convicted sex or gun offender is released by the Illinois Department of Corrections in primitive fashion — through a “carbon copy” of the release form.
“This paper nonsense — this information needs to be disseminated in real time, electronically, throughout the city to communities. And it’s incumbent on us in this room, the elected officials, to get that information out,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Southwest Side ward is home to scores of police officers.
Aldermen were equally incredulous to learn that Chicago’s registry of sex offenders had only 2,243 names. They include 1,598 adult sex offenders, 250 juveniles and 395 homeless residents.
O’Shea demanded that the Police Department “cut out the middleman” and notify aldermen directly and electronically when gun and sex offenders register.
“Just a few weeks ago, we had a guy arrested a half block from Mount Greenwood School, home to 1,100 students in my community. I went up and down that block with fliers in addition to an email. That guy still hasn’t left his house,” O’Shea said.
“You’ve got to shed light on these guys. Parents need to know when their kids are walking to school or walking by these guys’ houses. They’re in my neighborhood. They’re in all of yours, too,” he said.
Southwest Side Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), represents the gang-ridden Brighton Park and Back of the Yards neighborhoods.
Lopez relived the nightmare of last summer, when gunmen opened fire at a block party and shot a 6-year-old child.
“If that block had been aware that that gentleman was on probation with a weapons charge, people would have been more apt to be cognizant of the kinds of individuals that were gravitating towards that individual. And that little 6-year-old might not have been shot,” Lopez said. “The more information we give to our residents to let them know who’s on the block to protect their children, to protect their families, it’s well worth whatever logistical issues we may need to resolve.”
Tuesday’s hearing turned into a giant gripe session.
The Finance and Public Safety Committees took no action on Burke’s proposal to mandate the Chicago Police Department to notify local residents when a gun or sex offender moves onto their block.
Although the police department maintains both a sex and gun registry, Burke’s focus is on those who don’t own computers, can’t access the internet or lack computer skills to find the information that could be critical to their public safety.