If you live in Chicago, and you get convicted of unlawful use of a weapon, you must register with police. Your name, address, picture and other info is then posted online. That law has been in effect for two-and-a-half years, and to date, a little over 540 people are on the gun offender registry.
Alderman Ed Burke wants to rework the law to include people convicted of nearly all felony gun crimes, which would dramatically expand the registry. The argument is that if there is an ex-gun offender on the block, the public should have the opportunity to know about that, so should the cop who is answering the neighborhood call, and the upshot may be fewer repeat offenders
"We feel it would definitely discourage and help with recidivism," said Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Tom Byrne. "We think it's a good tool, another tool in the tool box that we can use."
New York City, Washington and Baltimore all have an expansive gun crime registries, and each has seen a drop in repeat offenders.
"Does the need to register as an offender persuade someone not to commit the crime again? Who knows? But that's what the facts show," said 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke.
As it exists right now, finding the gun offender registry is not at all user friendly. You must click online services on the CPD page, and then go to the sex offender registry to find the gun offender registry. Police acknowledge it's clumsy and that will be changed.
What will most certainly change are the numbers. While the reworked ordinance would deal with future convictions, it would also require that any Chicagoan in prison now for a crime with a gun, must register when they get out and reregister every year for four years after which they go off the list.
The list could expand by thousands and that requires people to oversee it.
"The superintendent, the mayor and we as the Council have to consider what the needs are in that area that we have just made adjustments to, and what it will cost," said 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran. That manpower need would come at a time when the city has been shifting an increasing number of cops from desk duty to the streets. The existing ordinance has gone largely unnoticed, and some would argue unenforced.
The "wider net" that Alderman Burke wants to cast would certainly make the registry more noticeable. Whether it becomes a valuable tool in the toolbox is the unanswered question.