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Report shows CPD has closed bureaucratic loophole on FOID reporting requirement

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks during a press conference outside the Thompson Center in April 2018, the month he issued a special order requiring officers to file a report within 24 hours on people who pose a "clear and present danger." | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department has closed a bureaucratic loophole that threatened to make an already violent city even more dangerous, a follow-up report from the inspector general showed Wednesday.

The new report comes a year after Police Supt. Eddie Johnson issued a special order requiring all employees to submit forms within 24 hours of making a “determination of a clear and present danger,” as required by the state law governing Firearm Owners Identification cards.

Changes made since then have given a big boost to the number of reports filed, the inspector general found.

The reporting form was made available on CPD computers and “accessible electronically to all officers on all shifts,” Joe Lipari, the city’s deputy inspector general for public safety, reported Wednesday.

In addition, as a result of the order, CPD “created relevant curricula and provided adequate training on the FOID act for all current police employees and recruits, Lipari said.

That includes: an eLearning module, “FOID Card Act — Clear and Present Danger Reporting”; a lesson plan, “Legal Issues and Law Enforcement Response”; another lesson plan, “Mental Illness and Non-Normative Behavior” and a special order, “Person Determined to Pose a Clear and Present Danger.”

“In this era of gun violence, compliance with the Act is an important mechanism for CPD to keep firearms away from those in the city who should not be legally entitled to their possession and to optimize violent crime prevention strategies,” Lipari was quoted as saying in a press release.

Lipari acknowledged the inspector general’s office “did not evaluate the efficacy of the new policy as implemented.”

But he noted that CPD “submitted 47 forms” to the Illinois State Police in the 10 months after Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s initial report.

That’s a far cry from “only two forms having been submitted during the original evaluation’s 40-month review window,” Lipari wrote.

It was almost a year ago to the day that Ferguson accused the department of failing to comply with the “clear and present danger” reporting requirements of the state law governing Firearm Owners Identification Cards.

The law requires cops to notify the Illinois State Police within 24 hours when they encounter someone posing a “clear and present danger” — to themselves or the general public.

But that was not happening, according to Ferguson’s explosive report — the first by the public safety section of the inspector general’s office.

The “compliance evaluation” was conducted after a January 2017 complaint that “expressed concern” about the police department’s “process of returning firearms to individuals who had threatened suicide,” Ferguson said.

To test the accuracy of that complaint, the IG identified 37 incidents over a 3 1/2 year period ending on April 29, 2017 in which Chicago Police officers transported an individual from whom a firearm was recovered to a mental health facility.

In only one of those 37 cases did CPD make the required “clear and present danger” report to the state police. One other report was filed in an incident that did not involve transportation to a mental health facility.

The 37 cases did not represent the “universe of all possible situations” in which police officers interact with individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others.

Ferguson noted then that the state’s “sweeping definition” of “clear and present danger” includes “physical or verbal behavior, whether suicidal or directed at another” with “no requirement that weapons of any kind be involved.” He further noted that the state reporting requirement includes a “complete lack of exceptions.”

As a result, the inspector general concluded that the “number of clear and present danger situations” created by the CPD’s non-compliance “likely far exceeds the two reported incidents.”

“Individuals who should not be entitled to possess a firearm under federal or state law continue to exercise that legal right due to CPD’s inaction,” Ferguson wrote then in a letter to the mayor and City Council that accompanied his report.

“In a time of continuing high incidence of gun violence in Chicago — and as part of a comprehensive crime strategy — full compliance with the act’s reporting requirement provides CPD a key mechanism by which to prevent unnecessary gun violence and keep firearms away from those who are not legally entitled to their possession.”

He added, “Anything less than full compliance … creates cracks through which individuals likely to harm themselves or others with firearms may fall.”

Ferguson’s complaints back then were particularly timely, considering that the gunman in a mass shooting on April 22, 2018, at a Nashville, Tennessee Waffle House had an Illinois FOID card.