Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Supt. David Brown on Tuesday assailed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for airing criticism of CPD’s soaring arrests for nonviolent gun possession.
At separate news conferences, Lightfoot and Brown took aim at a webinar last week by Foxx’s office showing CPD arresting more and more people for gun possession who have no criminal record, pulling people into the criminal justice system who are likely not driving the city’s gun violence. Those arrests have ascended in recent years as arrests for violent gun crimes have trended down — even amid a shooting surge that began more than a year ago. The webinar suggested that the police are not arresting “the right people” who possess guns.
“I fundamentally disagree with that,” Lightfoot said. “We are a city that’s awash in illegal guns. Those illegal guns cause deep pain and injury and death. So the suggestion that somehow the Police Department is wasting its time [by] arresting people who illegally possess firearms at the height of this crisis, I just fundamentally disagree with that.”
Brown, meanwhile, blasted Foxx’s presentation during a news conference he held Tuesday about a morning shooting in Englewood that killed four people and wounded four others.
“Any thoughts that illegal gun possession doesn’t drive violence is ridiculous,” Brown said. “We’re less safe when people illegally possess guns.”
“Case after case, where we have conflict and you put a gun in someone’s hands — particularly an illegal gun — you increase the opportunity for violent crime,” Brown said.
“Obviously, common sense is not so common,” Brown said, referring to Foxx’s office. “We should all know that illegal gun possession makes us less safe, not more safe. And I would argue the idea of decriminalizing illegal gun possession is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my 40 years of law enforcement.”
At the state’s attorney’s webinar, billed as training for journalists, Foxx and her staff did not endorse any decriminalization. Matthew Saniie, the office’s data chief, screened data visualizations suggesting that Foxx’s office prosecutes gun offenders, even nonviolent ones, at high rates.
But Saniie also presented charts showing that nonviolent gun arrests have more than doubled since 2014 and that the increase stems mainly from street stops. That approach, he said, dragged more than 1,400 people with no prior convictions into the criminal justice system last year and will have a lasting impact on the individuals, their families and their communities.
Brown has pushed police supervisors to increase traffic and pedestrian street stops as well as arrests but has denied setting quotas for that activity. In January, Lt. Franklin Paz brought a lawsuit against the city alleging he was ousted from a citywide unit because he would not be pressured to have cops under him make illegal stops and arrests.
The state’s attorney’s webinar generated discussion among close observers of the police department.
“Foxx has a point,” Chicago attorney Tom Needham, a former CPD general counsel, wrote on Twitter. “The dramatic increase in arrests for gun possession is due in large part to the quota strategy that Brown has implemented. There are many more traffic stops for minor/nonexistent violations and each one leads [to] the whole car being searched for guns.”
At his news conference, Brown mischaracterized Foxx’s criticism, saying the office was endorsing illegal gun possession.
“I’m inviting anyone who makes the argument that illegal gun possession makes us safer to come to Englewood this morning and look those victims and their families in the eye and say the same thing,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to think that we can decriminalize illegal possession of guns and be safer.”
Foxx’s office responded that it still prosecutes nonviolent gun offenders and never endorsed any sort of decriminalization. But the office also refused to back off the point of its webinar.
Sarah Sinovic, a spokeswoman for the office, said many Chicagoans possess guns merely for protection.
“To drive down gun violence in Chicago,” Sinovic said, “we should be arresting shooters as opposed to just gun carriers.”