On Wednesday, the Illinois Senate approved legislation that would allow longer prison sentences for groups who used social media to "organize violent 'flash mobs,'" according to state Sen. Kwame Raoul's (D-Chicago) office.
"The important thing is it's a discretionary tool," Raoul said Thursday. "It's not a mandatory enhancement."
The new law would allow judges to "impose a more severe sentence" on those convicted of mob action when "an electronic communication is used in the commission of the offense." The Hyde Park senator said he expected judges to make use of it on a "case-by-case basis" and that "hopefully" it would act as a deterrent on the streets.
The Senate approval comes nearly a month after a group of teens was arrested in connection with a robbery near the State-Lake Red Line station after coordinating a trip Downtown via Twitter.
"There's a lot of focus on Michigan Avenue," Raoul said, but emphasized it's not solely about "wildings" along the Magnificent Mile. He added the law would also apply to a recent incident in which South Side gangbangers used Facebook to track the whereabouts a woman they proceeded to shoot in the leg, as well as the "exchange of gang threats and things of that nature" on Twitter.
"I do represent a large portion of the Magnificent Mile," said state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), sponsor of the measure in the House. "But this isn't just a Magnificent Mile problem. We have gang action coordinated in the southern part of the district by folks using social media.
"We don't have the kind of same old-school traditional gang activity people are used to," added the Bronzeville legislator. "We have much more splintered, block-by-block, house-by-house, smaller-group-by-smaller group sort of organizational levels. So allowing law enforcement to keep up with the tools that some of these kids are using for organization to do criminal acts is really important."
Last month, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he's expecting more issues with large groups of teens congregating downtown as the weather warms up.
"Obviously, it's problematic when we pull police from our districts to guard the northern Michigan [Avenue] area, but we need more police, and I'm concerned about the summer," Fioretti said.
"As the weather gets warmer, we can expect more of these types of incidents," he added. "The use of social media is hard to track and creates these situations."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the Mag Mile attacks last month were handled swiftly and properly by police, and McCarthy added that teens have a right to hang out downtown — but not break the law.
“Criminal mob actions threaten public safety and discourage tourists, shoppers and hotel guests from spending money in Chicago,” Raoul said in a statement. “Because social-media sites allow large groups bent on committing crimes to converge quickly and with minimal effort, it makes sense to let judges punish instigators more harshly when they organize mobs online.”
Raoul's original bill also called on Internet service providers to provide information on electronic messages when requested by police, but that amendment was dropped from the final text, which passed the state Senate without opposition.
"There were privacy issues," Raoul said.
"When anything flies out of the Senate with this kind of pretty easy vote, it's generally an indication it's gonna do pretty well in the House," Mitchell said, although he did not set a timeline for final passage.