Chicago’s prosecutors keep dangerous criminals on the streets
Chicago, at 2.75 million people, is roughly twice as large as Dallas, with 1.3 million people. However, while Dallas had only 220 murders last year, a 13% drop from the previous year, Chicago had 797 murders, a rate twice as high as that in Dallas. Two stories about crime in those cities help explain the differences.
The Dallas Morning News ended 2020 with a profile of Chief Eddie Garcia’s success in bringing all sorts of crime down in that city. Not only did murders drop by 13% in 2021, but arrests also dropped by 5% too.
Chief Garcia explained that the police department was able to do this because they focused on criminals and communities:
Officers homed in on homicides and on aggravated assaults and robberies. Police were consistently visible in the most dangerous blocks in the city. Gun seizures went up 27%, drug seizures 8%.
Dallas is now eight months into García’s violent crime prevention plan, which put data-savvy criminologists in the driver’s seat of policing strategies.
Using data to identify historically violent hot spots, García and his command staff deployed officers into specific blocks throughout the city to maintain a visible presence. Every so often, the patrols shift to other crime-ridden grids.
As the department tracked these efforts, it found that violence dropped dramatically in targeted blocks, while no decrease was evident in comparable grids where the strategy wasn’t in place.
In addition, the police department engaged in strong community policing—making themselves a friendly presence for ordinary people trying to muddle through life in crime-ridden communities. Dallas police figured out that, to improve the economy in poor neighborhoods, you must first end the violence. Pouring money and sympathy into neighborhoods riddled with crime does nothing.
Chicago has a different approach to dealing with crime, which is to make it pay. CWB Chicago tells the story of Damien Stewart, a career criminal who was recently arrested for his seventh felony gun conviction. Amazingly, with each arrest and conviction, Stewart’s sentences, rather than increasing, decreased!
Image: Risa Lanier. YouTube screen grab.
For his first- and second-gun convictions, Stewart got two-year sentences; for his third conviction, he got a three-year sentence; for his fourth conviction, he got a six-year sentence; and for his fifth gun conviction, he got a five-year sentence. You caught that decline in years from his fourth to fifth convictions, right? And of course, Stewart never seems to have served the full time on any of those convictions.
But it was for Stewart’s sixth conviction, in 2019, that things really went off the rails:
[Stewart was charged with] Class X armed habitual criminal, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon with previous convictions, ten counts of aggravated battery of police, aggravated assault of a peace officer by using a firearm, an DUI.
In a plea deal, prosecutors dropped all the charges except for one: His having a gun despite previous convictions on gun charges. Prosecutors next agreed to reduce that charge to the least-serious felony-level charge that Illinois offers: Class 4 aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
Stewart, who had been facing a mandatory sentence of six to 30 years in prison on just one of the charges against him, received a sentence of three years, which was offset entirely by the time he spent on electronic monitoring and in jail before he pleaded guilty, court records show.
The judge agreed. The correction records show that Stewart left prison on the same day he entered it.
The person in charge of this ludicrous revolving door system is Risa Lanier:
If you’re not familiar with Lanier, she was the lead prosecutor in the original Jussie Smollet case. That case concluded so favorably for the defendant, most experienced attorneys and judges said they had never seen anything like it before — and it helped spark a special prosecutor investigation that brought embarrassment to the state’s attorney’s office and her boss, Kim Foxx.
Lanier’s approach to prosecutions is to give the prosecutors free rein. As she explained, “We do empower our [assistant prosecutors] to look at their cases and to use their discretion.” Judging by the Smollett case, the entire department seems to believe that prosecutors owe more to the criminals whose presence ensures future work for prosecutors than to the citizens being overwhelmed by violence.
Thankfully, for his seventh gun possession charge, Stewart ended up in the court of Judge Mary Marubio, a Democrat who believes in the rule of law. She set Stewart’s bail at $250,000 but also said he will not have the opportunity to post a bond until state authorities can review whether his parole status means he needs to go back to jail.
The contrast between Dallas and Chicago couldn’t be greater. Dallas is focusing on removing from the streets the recidivists who cause much of the crime. Chicago, under the rule of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and people like Lanier, clearly believes in making the city safer for criminals.