Vallas: Chicago needs a public safety act to counter SAFE-T Act

Vallas: Chicago needs a public safety act to counter SAFE-T Act

Chicago's rampant crime is not getting attention from city leaders. It is getting worse thanks to the SAFE-T Act. To fix that, city leaders need their own public safety act. And soon.

With a record-high 29,063 car thefts and 36 mass shootings – with 617 murders considered an improvement – Chicagoans are highly concerned about the rise of crime, up 16% in 2023. City leaders? Their passive approach to crime has become dismissive.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s response so far? Eliminate 833 police positions from his proposed 2024 budget. Break his campaign promise to fully fund police and invest in “Treatment not Trauma.” Dispense over $156 million on the mismanaged migrant crisis, instead of investing in public safety measures.

A new poll shows 2-in-3 Chicago voters are not happy with his approach to crime. Even more disapprove of his migrant crisis management.

Violent crime is now exacerbated by the nonsensical provisions of the SAFE-T Act and “alternative detention programs.” The number of habitual criminals released back to the streets has increased.

City Hall needs to get serious about containing and reversing rising crime. One way to do that is by enacting its own public safety act. Using its “home rule” powers, the city can create local public safety ordinances and prosecute offenders.

With violent crime continuing to surge and an arrest rate of less than 12%, it is critical the city implement bold initiatives to protect residents impacted by crime. Using Chicago’s home rule authority, the city legally has the ability to “prosecute offenders of local city ordinances.” Prosecutions of public safety violations could better protect the public than hoping the ideology of the elected local prosecutor will do so.

The city could include crimes of hate, domestic violence, weapons violations and threats against witnesses and victims in its ordinances. The city safety act could cover possession of stolen vehicles, robbery, burglary, theft and retail theft for items over $1,000 value. The city can impose a maximum sentence of six months in jail, including fines and terms of probation.

A city public safety ordinance could:

  • Provide opportunities for non-jail time. Non-violent crimes of survival could be referred to a social service network, where “sentences” could include mental health and drug treatment, parenting classes, and community service to nonprofits and faith-based groups across the city.
  • Empower and protect police. Officers could make arrests and financially hold responsible those who disrupt peaceful protests, loot, riot, damage property, engage in flash mobs or incite civil unrest. This would include the power to immediately seize money, vehicles and cell phones that would be released upon payment of fines or upon completion of a behavior-modification program.
  • Address the illegal firearms plaguing communities. There should be a punitive approach and a heavy fine of up to $2,000 per firearm that is stolen, defaced or illegally possessed. This applies to weapon charges frequently rejected by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office when illegal firearms are seized. A fine by issuance of a municipal citation makes it a separate matter and ensures financial consequences even when Foxx’s office refuses to charge.

Proceeds from city safety act fines could be used to finance a real, comprehensive witness and victim protection program. That should be accompanied by a city case review unit.

A city case review unit could:

  • Review prosecutors’ and judges’ decisions on charging, pretrial release, and sentencing in violent crimes, firearms and hate crime cases.
  • Circumvent the archaic laws that restrict FOIA information and protect the county’s criminal justice system from accountability.
  • Highlight cases in which criminals with violent prior convictions were released back into communities and offer electoral accountability for the flagrant decisions by prosecutors and judges that put communities at risk.

Until we have a new state’s attorney and other leaders who focus on protecting the public, the calamitous SAFE-T Act will wreak havoc. These provisions offer too many loopholes. Under the current versions, individuals have the ability to serve their sentence, in some cases even for murder, from the comfort of their homes by leveraging “good time credit” they receive for their time on electronic monitoring. And, more disturbingly, to obtain a 48-hour period free of monitoring each week. This will in effect allow offenders to harass and intimidate their victims and the witnesses.

Addressing underinvestment and the root issues of criminal activity are necessary steps for crime reduction. But unless we take substantial action to reinforce our police and address crime today, Chicagoans will be forced to endure decades of record-breaking crime. Pursuing a city public safety act would ensure government leaders aren’t risking public safety.

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