Kim Foxx says progressive prosecution could result in safer neighborhoods

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The trend of what some have labeled progressive prosecution is happening throughout the nation, including here in Cook County.

During her first campaign, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx promised reform. In an interview with the I-Team, Foxx touted her office's progressive success as she seeks a second term, explaining why she believes her "holistic approach" to prosecution could result in safer neighborhoods.

"Trying to look end to end, who are the people who are coming through our system both victims and defendants and how do we know we're making an impact if we're seeing people cycle in and out of the justice system," said Foxx.

Foxx leads an office of 800 attorneys. She said she wants to stop the practice of just processing people through the criminal justice system. Forty percent of prosecutions here are drug related.

"Our mandate is always about public safety," she said. "In a city like Chicago where we have a gun violence epidemic, that we have to tide spending our time chasing offenses that aren't going to have an impact on that, isn't keeping our community safe."

Research reveals Foxx has dismissed thousands of felonies that would have been previously prosecuted.

"We put some of our lawyers in some of the most violent police districts to help work on gun crimes from the ground up," said Foxx. "We never would have been able to have the resources to do that if we hadn't reallocated resources from traffic offenses and retail theft."

But is this approach keeping more people safe in Cook County?

"What's frustrating is that no one is really exploring what the downside risk of the policies that they're proposing are going to be." said Rafael Mangual with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York City.

The progressive platform focuses on bond reform, reducing mass incarceration and decriminalizing marijuana. Foxx's Democratic opponents in the March primary have varying opinions on this approach.

"I would consider myself a progressive prosecutor. We need to balance our criminal justice reform efforts as well as really get after the gun crime epidemic. We need to find that right balance and we're not doing it now," said candidate Bill Conway.

"I think I am a progressive prosecutor because I believe in creative, new, innovative solutions to problems, that's how I define it," said candidate Donna More. "I don't define it by catch and release, I don't define it by not holding people responsible."

"The issue is what Kim Foxx has done with so called 'progressive prosecution.' The pendulum has shifted so far that it now has to come back so people feel safe," said candidate Bob Fioretti.

Foxx and fellow progressive prosecutor Rachael Rollins from the Boston area said transparency is a priority.

"Our office was the first prosecutor's office in the country to put every piece of felony level case data on an open data portal," said Foxx.

"The hardest part has been people who are deeply invested in the status quo. We want to be held accountable, similar to what Kim Foxx has done in Cook County. She's really leading the country with respect to transparency," Rollins said.

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Using information from the office's dashboard, the I-Team found between the years of 2016 to 2018, punishment with prison sentences dropped 3 percent.

"We've upped our use of diversion and alternative prosecution in this administration, compared to the last one," Foxx said.

The office's most high-profile alternative prosecution case of the year: Jussie Smollett.

The actor was ordered to do community service and forfeited his $10,000 bond. In exchange, the charges that he faked a hate crime against himself were dropped.

A special prosecutor now looking at how the case was handled. Foxx admits she could have done a better job.

"If this is a topic of interest and concern to the people, we are here to answer," she said.

As part of the new county budget, Foxx's office will be able to add nine new attorneys.

"My number one concern is making sure we're driving down violence. When we stopped prosecuting those traffic offenses, we were able to take attorneys from our traffic unit and re-purpose them in our gun crimes strategies unit," Foxx explained.

That unit was created by Foxx when she took office in 2016. Analysis from the University of Chicago Crime Lab shows the five districts with embedded prosecutors saw a decrease in violence and a significant increase in enhanced gun charges compared to the districts without a prosecutor.

"We've reduced the jail population in the past five years by almost 45 percent. And I think there still needs to be tweaks, work to be done to make sure that we have the right people in there for the right reasons," said Foxx.

Foxx said many people do not know about the civil division in her office, which has sued Facebook and Uber over data breaches, and President Trump regarding green card extensions, on behalf of the people of Cook County.
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