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Preckwinkle complains to Lightfoot about her top cop’s ‘false narrative’ on crime: ‘It’s infuriating’

Preckwinkle accused Johnson of finger-pointing to evade the real root of the city’s crime problem, his department’s “clearance rate for homicides … one of the lowest in the nation.”

Lori Lightfoot, right, shakes hands with former mayoral candidate Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Lori Lightfoot, right, shakes hands with former mayoral candidate Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on during a press conference the morning after Lightfoot won the mayoral race. File Photo.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

An angry Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, seeking to discredit a “false narrative” she says Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is promoting that portrays the county’s bail reform efforts as “the root cause for gun violence.”

The city’s top cop and the Fraternal Order of Police have “promulgated” a narrative that pins the violence in the city on the county, “county judges, county prosecutors — and their failure to do their job and that’s simply not true,” Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It’s a false narrative, and they know it, and it’s infuriating,” she said.

Preckwinkle accused Johnson of finger-pointing to evade the real root of the city’s crime problem, his department’s “clearance rate for homicides … one of the lowest in the nation.”

In the letter she sent to her former rival in the mayoral race on Tuesday, Preckwinkle invited Lightfoot to participate “in a more substantive way” in the county’s own anti-violence efforts.

Preckwinkle’s decision to wade into the city’s gun violence conversation comes after being concerned for a while, she said Wednesday. Preckwinkle has said she’s proud of the reforms to the bail system and of the work the county is continuing to do on that front.

“We have an opportunity to leverage our combined resources and expertise to develop strategic solutions to reduce gun violence,” part of Preckwinkle’s letter, which was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, reads. “However, 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. We both know this is simply not true.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle met last week and though the board president alerted the mayor of her concerns, she did not tell her about the impending letter.

Lightfoot was not able to join the last public safety stakeholder meeting at the county because of her transition into office, Preckwinkle’s Chief of Staff Lanetta Haynes Turner, said. Johnson was not able to attend the meeting either.

Toni Preckwinkle, Lori Lightfoot
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot laid a wreath at a Memorial Day ceremony Monday.
Jon Seidel/Chicago Sun-Times

Neither the mayor’s office or the Chicago Police Department were immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

During Lightfoot’s “Accountability Monday” press conference on the Monday after the Fourth of July weekend, both the mayor and the police superintendent pointed to repeat gun offenders for the violence that left 66 wounded and six dead in 42 shooting incidents that weekend.

“We can’t keep our community safe if people just keep cycling through the system, because what that says to them is, ‘I can do whatever I want. I can carry whatever I want. I can shoot up a crowd, and I’m going to be back on the street.’ How does that make sense?” the mayor said last Monday.

Johnson said many of the offenders were familiar to the police department.

“We know that these offenders are likely to continue their behavior that landed them in handcuffs in the first place,” said Johnson. “We know this because we keep arresting them over and over again.”

But Preckwinkle sought to debunk the idea that the county’s criminal justice reform efforts were to blame for the city’s gun violence.

“Cook County’s bond system is not the reason behind gun violence in Chicago,” Preckwinkle writes in her letter. “Gun violence was at its highest in 2016 but since then, as we instituted bail reform, the homicide rate and shootings have dropped substantially.”

The county’s courts now “utilize a comprehensive assessment tool” to examine the risk of whether individuals will engage in criminal activity or fail to appear for their court hearings.

Of those who are arrested and who do enter the criminal court system, a recent report by the Office of the Chief Judge found that during an 18-month period that ended on March 31, only 0.6% of defendants who were released on bond were charged with a new violent offense — the number of “no bail” decisions county judges have entered has increased “nearly tenfold since we began instituting bail reform,” Preckwinkle writes.

The problem, Preckwinkle says, is not what happens when violent criminals come before judges, “but rather what happens when violent criminals are never brought before a judge.”

Citing the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Preckwinkle says in the city only 26% of homicides result in an arrest and only 5% of shootings result in an arrest.

“Chicago’s clearance rate for homicides continues to remain one of the lowest in the nation, leaving families of victims with no closure while violent perpetrators of crime are emboldened to continue wreaking havoc in our communities,” the letter says.

When she was running for mayor, Preckwinkle didn’t hide that she would’ve replaced Johnson had she become the next leader of the city. She hasn’t changed her mind on the city needing a new police superintendent.

“I made myself clear on the campaign — I haven’t changed my mind,” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. “What I said then, and what I believe, is that you can’t solve problems you don’t acknowledge and you can’t pretend that you’re addressing your problems by pointing your finger at somebody else.

“The city faces an incredible challenge with the number of shootings and murders that occur mostly on our weekends. … and we have to figure out how we’re going to address that. First you have to acknowledge that it’s there and not, as a I said, just point the finger at other people,” Preckwinkle said.

Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the police department said he hadn’t seen the letter but we “fully support criminal justice reform that focuses on treatment and support for nonviolent offenders. When it comes to violent individuals and those who carry and use guns in our community, it’s up to the people of Cook County to decide how our criminal justice system should treat those who fuel gun violence.

“We as the police will not editorialize this issue but simply try to be more transparent and present data so the people of Chicago can make their own conclusions.”