Vallas: Chicago domestic shootings up 19% in 2023. Fix needed now.

Vallas: Chicago domestic shootings up 19% in 2023. Fix needed now.

In Chicago and Cook County, law enforcement leadership and the court systems are failing women, especially domestic violence victims. Black women are disproportionately impacted. Leadership is desperately needed where incompetence now rules.

Cook County government and its court systems play critical roles in ensuring domestic violence victims receive safety, resources and justice, but the system is failing women and their children. Changes are needed.

Here’s how.

Governmental departments need to be working together effectively to ensure justice is served and domestic violence victims receive the resources and care they need. This includes: the chief judge’s office, which oversees many programs and whose judges are assigned to these cases; the county sheriff who is tasked with serving the orders of protection so they can be enforced; the state’s attorney, the victims’ advocate in seeking justice; and the Illinois State Police, overseeing the online criminal history repository and sharing information between law enforcement agencies including orders of protection.

A recent tragedy is bringing attention to the broken system, yet the leadership needed to fix the system remains absent. Jaden Perkins, 11, was murdered trying to protect his pregnant mother, who was stabbed and critically injured after her abuser was released from prison. The alleged attacker had an extensive criminal record and had been the subject of numerous orders of protection.

The victim was denied an emergency order of protection. A hearing had been scheduled to consider a plenary order of protection, which would have offered protections for up to two years. The perpetrator was not served the order to appear in court by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, even though he had been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Instead of his parole being denied and attending this hearing via Zoom, he was released. On the day of the scheduled court hearing, he killed the boy and tried to kill the mother.

The judge, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Cook County sheriff all should be held accountable for this tragedy. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has seemingly held members of the parole board accountable with two resignations and the announcement of additional trainings and reforms at the parole board.

Sadly, this case is the latest example of poor accountability in a system in which victims and their children are continuously being harmed or murdered after seeking assistance from the entities that exist to protect them. Absent from conversations about public safety reform is a discussion of strategies to address domestic and gender-based violence.

The horrors of this case are happening all too often in Cook County, where our criminal and civil court systems hide behind a wall of secrecy because the courts are not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act

The chief judge also oversees an electronic monitoring program, the pretrial and probation department, and the juvenile justice system, including the juvenile detention facility. All remain a mystery to the taxpaying public and to children’s advocates. Without transparency, there cannot be accountability. How can we expect victims of violence to trust the system?

These cases are tragic indicators of a broken system. It is time for legislators to step up and challenge this archaic desire for secrecy with true criminal justice reform measures. That means transparent court systems and publicly available data.

The past few years have been terrifying for women. In 2023 alone, domestic shootings went up 19%. Violent crimes and sexual assaults have skyrocketed while arrests by police have gone down. According to the Chicago Violence Reduction Dashboard, data from 2023 shows there were 13,969 female victims of violent crime such as assault, battery, criminal sexual assault, robbery and homicide – a 26% increase from 2020.

Black women in particular are being victimized. A CBS News Chicago analysis of Chicago Police crime data found Black women accounted for 25% of all crime victims in 2022. After receiving new data, further analysis determined that number was even higher – 30% – or nearly 1 in 3 crime victims were Black women. Black women and girls under 18 are hardest hit, with 14 Black girls attacked and injured for every white girl.

What should be done to better protect women and their children in Chicago, in addition to enacting true transparency in our court systems?

First, focus on the most important step: Orders of protection must be served in a timely and effective manner. Oftentimes, these orders mandate the abuser leave the home, transfer ownership of firearms and relinquish Firearm Owner’s Identification cards. These are critically important to protecting the victims, their children, co-workers, law enforcement and the general public. All have been killed in domestic incidents.

The Chicago Police Department needs to start checking the database and begin serving any outstanding orders. This will ensure the court’s orders of protection are valid and enforceable and are truly providing protection to victims. This would also allow police to arrest those who violate a judge’s restraining order.

Second, agencies such as Chicago’s departments of Housing, Public Health, and Family and Support Services should all be coordinating care and prioritizing new services for victims of domestic violence. Those include housing, trauma-informed care and employment assistance.

Priority should be given to securing housing in every police district so there are always safe places for women and children fleeing violence. The state and local governments should collaborate with community-based organizations and with law enforcement to ensure the survivors are safe and receiving services.

Third, the SAFE-T Act should be amended to make it easier to detain anyone who attacks, threatens, or contacts witnesses, victims or police officers. The legislature must also find a way to provide prosecutors and courts with the resources they need to advocate for pretrial detention of violent perpetrators.

Fourth, Chicago must use its home rule authority to enact its own public safety act. Such an ordinance can provide for as long as 364 days of jail time and include fines and terms of probation for individuals who threaten police, intimidate witnesses, engage in hate crimes, commit more serious weapons violations, are in possession of a stolen vehicle, etc. The city’s home rule powers mean state laws and the state’s attorney are not the only source of authority for protecting public safety.

Fifth, a position in the Chicago Police Department must be created for a first deputy superintendent for gender-based violence. That person would prioritize police effectiveness, implement training and best practices, and ensure victims are protected. This official would implement policies and violence interdiction strategies, ensure data collection and reporting, and lead efforts to collaborate with social services and the criminal justice system.

It is clear there is a domestic violence crisis in Chicago that our government seems to be ignoring. It is aggravated by the SAFE-T Act pretrial release changes, which are flooding the streets with violent offenders, as well as the deliberate withholding of information that would determine the impact of failing to keep dangerous and repeat felons off the street.

The system and its leaders are failing women through a lack of transparency, inept coordination of government agencies and with a system that release violent individuals without a plan to keep victims safe. It’s time to make women’s and children’s safety our top priority.

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