Frank Main, Chicago Sun Times, August 21, 2020
The number of criminal defendants freed on bail and ordered to wear electronic-monitoring bracelets has soared this year in Cook County, including more than 1,000 people charged with murder, robbery or illegal possession of guns, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.
Police Supt. David Brown says many of those being set free on electronic monitoring are responsible for the steep rise in killings this year in Chicago.
On Aug. 9, 43 people facing murder charges were in the county’s electronic-monitoring program — 40% more than on the same day last year.
Also in the program were 160 people charged with robbery and about 1,000 charged with illegal gun possession — twice as many for those crimes as on Aug. 9, 2019.
The Chicago Police Department has pointed to Cook County judges’ skyrocketing use of electronic monitoring as a key factor in the city’s shocking 50% rise in killings this year. Brown has hammered on that at news conferences following one violent weekend in Chicago after another, blaming a court system he has said won’t keep violent offenders behind bars.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is among county officials who’ve pushed back against the police department’s assertion that people free on bail are responsible for Chicago’s rise in violent crime.
Others say a decrease in police activity like arrests and traffic stops is also a likely factor in the rise in violence.
To protect the public, people charged with crimes who are granted bail with the condition they go on electronic monitoring typically are required to stay home except to go to work or school.
The number of people released with monitoring has risen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen more detainees freed on bail to reduce the jail population to try to keep the virus from spreading.
More than 3,330 people are now in the county’s electronic-monitoring program, up from about 2,200 last year, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, which is required to track them.
Nearly 5,000 others charged with crimes and awaiting trial are being held at the Cook County Jail, which has the capacity to hold twice as many people.
In 2016 and 2017, the most common charge being faced by suspects on electronic monitoring was drug possession.
Since 2018, the No. 1 charge has been gun possession, though it’s unclear whether a reform of the county’s bail system in 2017 had a role in that.
Under the reform, judges have been required to set bail felony defendants can afford to pay. The aim was to keep people who pose little risk to the public from languishing in jail because they are too poor to make bail.
The Sun-Times asked the police department for data showing any links between violent crime and people on electronic monitoring.
The department responded with examples — a list of 29 people that Brown has used to criticize the electronic-monitoring program.
The list included:
- Chrishawn Thomas, 18, who’s accused of jumping from a stolen GMC truck and robbing a female driver at gunpoint in March in Logan Square, taking her iPhone X, AirPods, wallet and house keys. The police arrested Thomas near the Parkway Gardens housing complex on the South Side after, they say, he rammed their vehicle with the stolen truck. Charged with armed robbery, he posted $500 in bail and was placed on electronic monitoring in early April. On June 9, the sheriff’s office received an alert for an “unauthorized leave” by Thomas from his electronic monitoring. Three hours later, he shot an off-duty Chicago cop in a knee during an attempted robbery and the officer returned fire, hitting Thomas in the legs, police say. Thomas was arrested at a hospital the next day and is being held without bail.
- Dimitris Horns, 18, who was arrested in February in Englewood for possessing a firearm illegally. Police said they saw a bulge under Horns’ sweatshirt and that he ran when they approached him and tossed a .40-caliber handgun during the chase. Horns posted $500 to get out of jail on bail and was placed on electronic monitoring. In late May, sheriff’s officials in the electronic-monitoring unit got an alert about Horns’ bracelet being tampered with and Horns being on unauthorized leave. He was declared a fugitive after investigators visited his home and found his cut-off bracelet. On July 8, the police say he shot a man in the face during a robbery of $130 in Englewood. He was charged with aggravated battery, armed robbery and escape.