CHICAGO — In her first 100 days in office, Cook County State Attorney's Kim Foxx says she's shaken up the office with new hires, made the office more transparent and rolled out new strategies to promote public safety.
But she also admitted some of her decisions might have raised eyebrows — like the move to only charge thefts of $1,000 or more as felonies — but said they were necessary to deal with those suffering from mental health issues.
Foxx made her remarks Wednesday as she announced her newest initiative: a gun crime strategies pilot, which works with federal and state law enforcement to identify individuals driving violence in the city's most dangerous police districts and then keeps the same prosecutors on a case throughout its legal proceedings.
"What we needed was a plan, an action to target those who were causing the most violence," she said in an appearance at the City Club of Chicago Downtown. "This unit in collaboration with our federal partners is modeled after units we witnessed in New York and San Francisco. It harnesses the resources in our office and our partners for intelligence-driven prosecution strategies to address crime and target violent offenders."
Top county and federal prosecutors will work with the Harrison and Englewood police districts to build cases from the ground up and target those doing the most harm, she said.
"These are not cases that will be charged and then handed off to someone else and we see what happens down the line. [Prosecutors] will be accountable for each and every one of those prosecutions from the beginning to the very end. They will also be responsible for going out and gathering intelligence with their partners to build profiles not just for the individual, but for networks," Foxx said, adding the gathered information will be used to strengthen cases across law enforcement offices.
The gun crimes strategies pilot program comes after the city's top cop unsuccessfully pushed a bill asking for steeper punishments for repeat gun offenders in Springfield last week.
The strategy ensures Supt. Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State's Attorneys office are working "together and not in our own silos," she said.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck approach that we have to take to deal with the violence. And do it in a way that is thoughtful, meaningful and [that] has results. We’re very proud of the initiative because for far too often, Chicago and Cook County have been doing their own thing," Foxx said.
Foxx also went into detail all the changes she has made Wednesday since being sworn in on December 1.
"We were in the last month of what was surely a horrifying year in the city of Chicago and Cook County as it related to gun violence. We were one month away from what would’ve been the deadliest in almost 20 years in the city of Chicago," she told the group of her first days in office. "We were at that time dealing with anxiety and angst from those who had been victimized by crime and those who had a sincere distrust of the criminal justice system."
One of her first prerogatives was rebuilding that trust with communities, which is essential to help protect those communities, Foxx said.
"We cannot talk about violence in the neighborhoods of Chicago without talking about the need to legitimize and add credibility to the stakeholders in our criminal justice system. And the first ways you do that is acknowledge that we have an issue of credibility with our criminal justice system," she said.
Part of rebuilding that trust involved hiring that reflect the "integrity and efforts" promised to the public. Those hires included a Chief Ethics Officer and the office's first-ever Chief Diversity Officer, she said.
In her first month as the top prosecutor, she raised the bar for prosecution of shoplifters by refusing to charge suspects with felonies in crimes involving less than $1,000 worth of merchandise.
The change was controversial, she acknowledged, but necessary.
"I recognize for many having a prosecutor say that you are not going to prosecute someone seems antithetical to why you elected me … but it has become a matter of looking at who it is that’s coming into our jails and why," Foxx said.
"What we found for a number of people who are in our jails right now they aren’t the ones that are keeping us up at night. … There are a large population of those who are there because they're toiling under the burdens of mental illness and drug addiction," she said. "Jail is not the place to deal with mental health issues. That’s not what it was built for."
Also Wednesday, Foxx's office unveiled a new website where it outlined its new strategies in the theft cases as well as how it plans to seek public feedback and make charging decisions in police officer-involved shootings, among other initiatives.