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New police website tracks bond for those charged with gun crimes

“I’m not blaming judges for somebody else going out there and picking up a gun and using it, but what I do need their help on is sending that message of accountability,” Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson unveils the “Gun Offender Dashboard” Monday at a news conference at police headquarters. 
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson unveils the “Gun Offender Dashboard” Monday at a news conference at police headquarters. 
By Mitch Dudek for the Sun-Times

Seeking to highlight and eventually change a criminal justice system it contends makes it too easy for some gun offenders to return to the street, the Chicago Police Department on Monday unveiled a publicly accessible database that tracks the bond amount that judges issue for such crimes.

The “Gun Offenders Dashboard” also tracks whether those accused of the weapon offense were able to come up with the cash and go free.

“I’m not blaming judges for somebody else going out there and picking up a gun and using it, but what I do need their help on is sending that message of accountability, that’s the point,” Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a news conference at Chicago police headquarters.

The dashboard will update data from the previous week every Wednesday, with information on the site dating back several months.

Nearly two thirds of the the more than 1,100 people arrested in Chicago for felony gun charges from May 1 to July 28, had been released on bond, the lead page of the dashboard showed.

Jonathan Lewin, chief of the department’s bureau of technical services, said about 13 percent of those arrested on felony weapons charges after Jan. 1, 2018, have since been arrested again on a weapons charge or violent crime.

Johnson stressed “the importance of making gun offenders accountable and not making it easy for them to return to the streets mere days after being arrested on felony gun charges.”

It needs to be harder for gang members to pool together funds to buy the release of gunmen, Johnson said.

“Shooters in gangs, that’s one of their most prized assets, because everybody doesn’t have the stomach to do that,” he said.

Paying $100 is a sum a gang can absorb time and time again, paying $10,000 is not, Johnson said.

“It has to be a consequence that’s severe enough for them to give pause to leaving home with an illegal gun,” he said.

“CPD can do better, our prosecutors can do better and certainly our judges can do better, we can all do better,” Johnson continued. “I’m not going into a back and forth thing with our other partners, that’s not the point of all this. I think we have to come together as a team and figure out what’s the best way to convey that message that we won’t tolerate it.”

Timothy Evans, the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, has pushed back against Johnson’s claim over the role judges play in Chicago’s gun violence problem.

Pat Milhizer, a spokesman for Evans, pointed on Monday to a more than ten fold increase in recent months on no-bail orders in which judges deem felony defendants a danger to the community and order they be held in jail without release.

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for Cook County County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — who ran for office on the issue of reforming a bond system that filled the county jail with poor people — said prosecutors don’t recommend the release of violent criminals.

“While prosecutors do not set bail, we take public safety very seriously and do not recommend that violent offenders be released pre-trial,” she said in an email. “The State’s Attorney’s Office is committed to meaningful bail reform for those charged with non-violent offenses because for too long, the system has penalized people simply for being poor.”