Public Defender: City’s Gun Data Skews Facts And Violates Privacy Rights

CPD Gun Offender Dashboard
The Chicago Police Department's "Gun Offender Dashboard."
CPD Gun Offender Dashboard
The Chicago Police Department's "Gun Offender Dashboard."

Public Defender: City’s Gun Data Skews Facts And Violates Privacy Rights

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Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli says the newly released “Gun Offender Dashboard” unveiled by the Chicago Police Department earlier this week is a “blatant intrusion” into defendants’ privacy and creates a false narrative about violence in the city.

She is calling on the city to immediately take down the web-based data portal, but a spokesperson for the city said “Chicago has a right to a transparent criminal justice system and we aim to create it.”

The portal, which lists the names of people arrested on gun charges and provides their current bail status, is the latest development in an ongoing battle over bail reform in Cook County and violence in Chicago.

In 2017, Timothy Evans, the chief judge overseeing the Cook County Court system, issued an order that instructed judges to set affordable bail amounts. The idea was that if a person could be safely released on bail, they should not be held just because they’re poor. The change led to a drastic drop in the number of people held in jail while their case is in court.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson have said that the courts are releasing people onto the street who pose a public safety risk. The city published the data portal as part of an effort to prove that.

“You’ve heard me stress many times the importance of keeping gun offenders accountable and not making it easy for them to return to the streets mere days after being arrested for felony gun charges,” Johnson said at a press conference about the dashboard. “I think it’s important for us as a city to have this information. If we’re OK with how things are going, then don’t look at it.”

Johnson said he was not trying to blame the courts.

But in response to the dashboard, Campanelli said Johnson is “putting fear in the hearts of the communities and he’s putting pressure on the judges to lock people up because of this fictional notion that if you lock people up we will be safer. That’s not the facts. It’s the exact opposite. When you release people who deserve to be released because they are not a danger or a flight risk, they do better. Outcomes in their case are better. The community is better.”

Campanelli also criticized Johnson’s use of the term “gun offender” saying it’s imprecise and can be misleading because it includes people who, for example, are “sitting in a car where a gun is found — regardless of who the gun actually belongs to.” And many people carry guns for protection because of the prevalence of gun violence, but they never actually use the gun and should not be treated as violent offenders.

But CPD officials have repeatedly argued that illegal gun possession should be treated as a threat.

“If the person that pulls the triggers on these weapons, they don’t make that decision when they get to that incident, that point in time. They make the decision when they leave home every day with that gun. Because if you didn’t leave home with it, then you couldn’t pull the trigger,” Johnson said at a police press conference in July.

Campenllli said her office is also concerned about the privacy of their clients who are listed on the website.

“When you’re talking about arrest, no one has been convicted of anything. My clients are innocent until they are proven guilty,” said Campanelli. She said the information is “prejudicial” and she is researching whether Johnson broke the law in posting the information.

She said police are “using a list of people who are presumed innocent as a red herring to distract from the real issue of the day: the CPD’s failure to arrest the individuals who are shooters and who continue to wreak havoc in Chicago.”

In a written statement, CPD said that public defenders have a role to play and the department respects that. “Our job, however, is to be the voice for the voiceless — the victims of gun violence, not the perpetrators. All data in the bond portal is public, and is consistent with the information that most counties in Illinois already readily supply to their communities.”

Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at shannon_h.

Alyssa Edes produced this story for broadcast. Follow her at @alyssaedes.