When the City Council voted to expand Chicago’s little-known gun offender registry more than a year and a half ago, aldermen said the move would help protect beat cops and citizens alike.
In April 2013, violent, gun-related crimes like armed robbery, home invasion, kidnapping and carjacking were added to the types of convictions already requiring registration in the city. Before that, only gun-possession convictions were on the registry, which was created in 2010.
But instead of resulting in thousands of names flooding the registry, as some aldermen anticipated, registrations have been flat since the amended ordinance passed. The annual growth of the registry has remained about the same since 2010.
The Chicago Sun-Times found only about 450 people were on the department’s gun offender registration website in early December. After being contacted by the newspaper, police officials said they discovered a data-entry “glitch” that kept the registry staff from moving the names of registered gun offenders on to the department’s website. As a result, the department loaded almost 700 more names onto the site on Dec. 13, said Martin Maloney, a spokesman for the department.
Still, the nearly 1,200 people now on the website represent just a fraction of those convicted of gun-related crimes since the registry was created. Since 2010, an estimated 2,500 people have been convicted of possessing guns illegally in Chicago — and that doesn’t include the other types of gun-related crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping that have required offenders to register since April 2013.
Chicago Police officials, under pressure to reduce shootings amid the continuing national coverage of violence here, have said the registry is an important tool for police to vet the backgrounds of potentially dangerous people they encounter and for residents to learn when those people live in their neighborhoods. Other cities like New York have similar gun-offender registries, but they’re only for internal use by officers. New York is considering making its registry public like Chicago’s.
Asked why there aren’t more people in Chicago’s gun offender registry, police officials responded that they are aggressively enforcing the ordinance. “CPD has compiled more than 200 arrests so far this year for those failing to register,” Maloney said. The penalties for failing to register include up to six months in jail and a $500 fine per day, according to the amended 2013 ordinance. Police rules give unregistered gun offenders one chance to register without getting arrested if they say they were never notified about the requirement.
Maloney said the registry has grown “pretty equally” over the years: 247 people in December 2011; 526 people in December 2012; 818 people in December 2013; and 1,072 in December 2014.
About 1,000 people, the majority of those on the registry, had been convicted of gun-possession offenses. Only 22 people on the website were convicted of robbery and armed robbery, 18 of reckless discharge of a firearm, five of carjacking and three of home invasion as of Dec. 19.
Unlike the sex offender registries operated by the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police, the gun offender registry hasn’t attracted a lot of public attention.
Even those people who have registered were surprised to learn that their names, photos and the blocks where they live are listed on the Chicago Police Department’s website. One of them, Tehran Carter, said he was sentenced to probation after he pleaded guilty in 2011 to being a felon in possession of ammunition and to possession of drugs.
“This is public?” he said recently, when informed the Chicago Police Department’s gun offender registry includes his photo, name, age and other personal information. “I didn’t even know.”
Carter, 34, said police had recovered 9mm bullets in his mother’s home during a raid in 2010. He pleaded guilty to possessing the ammunition — even though he now says they actually belonged to her mother’s deceased boyfriend.
Carter said he received a letter from the police after he left the Cook County Jail, notifying him to register. Then police officers visited him to drive home the message. He said he registered soon after that.
Carter said everyone who is required to register for gun crimes should be compelled to do so, as he did.
“That’s only fair,” he said.
Offenders like Carter — who registered between 2010 and April 20, 2013 — must stay on the registry for a total of four years and appear in person annually to renew their registration.
The amended ordinance pertains only to those people convicted of a gun offense after April 20, 2013 — or to people convicted of a gun offense before that date and released from prison or jail afterward. Their registrations last four years, too.
If they don’t live in the city, they don’t have to register.
“The gun offender registry is valuable tool for police officers and residents, especially when an offender is under supervision, such as probation or parole,” Maloney said.
“When an officer comes into contact with a subject who is registered, or when they are conducting a compliance check, this tool can alert them to the fact that the individual has a history of gun crimes. Officers face incredible dangers every day, and this registry helps minimize the risks they take with their own life in service to residents. Additionally, residents can learn [about] their communities to see where gun offenders are registered in their area.”
Ald. Ed Burke (14th), a former police officer, had successfully pushed for the expansion of the registry in 2013, making some of those same arguments. At the time, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), another former cop, had said he was worried the registry might become swamped with another 10,000 to 15,000 names, creating a burden for the department. The two aldermen did not respond to requests for comment Monday.