Ald. wants stiffer penalties for crimes near senior housing

Taliaferro says he took up the measure after listening to scared seniors

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

An ordinance introduced by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) would add penalties for crimes that involve weapons and happen near senior housing.

Taliaferro said he proposed the ordinance after he visited a senior home in his ward and saw that its residents were afraid to go outside because drug dealers were hanging out nearby. The ordinance would impose additional penalties for any crimes committed at or near senior housing, requiring the offender to pay a fine and spend at least a month in jail. 

Taliaferro introduced the ordinance back in May. It was originally supposed to go before the Chicago City Council's Committee on Public Safety on Jan. 11, which would have allowed the full council to vote on it on Jan. 17, but Taliaferro asked for a possible vote to be pushed back until February. 

The ordinance would apply to any crime committed at or within 500 feet of "senior living centers," which it defines as senior living communities, retirement communities, assisted living communities and nursing homes. 

Austin has a number of locations that fit the bill, including Columbus Manor, 5107 W. Jackson, and the Senior Suites of Austin, 335 N. Menard Ave. Last spring, Taliaferro said he was visiting a senior home in his ward and noticed that all of the seniors were staying inside because drug dealers were hanging out nearby.

"The possibility of them being armed was frightening," Taliaferro said at the time, adding that, after that incident, he reached out to his colleagues to see if they could do something about the problem. 

Since Taliaferro introduced the ordinance, West Side aldermen Jason Ervin (28th) and Emma Mitts (37th) have signed on as co-sponsors, along with a handful of other aldermen who represent majority low-income and predominantly minority wards across the city. 

As Taliaferro saw it, the issue went beyond his ward.

"We need to make sure our most vulnerable senior citizens are protected. Seniors who reside in senior facilities" should be free to come and go as they please, without worrying that they might get hurt, he said. 

If a person is convicted of having or selling an assault weapon or high-capacity firearm magazine extension, they (in addition to any other charges and penalties they've incurred) would have to pay a fine of no less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000. They would also need to spend no less than 120 days and no more than six months in jail. 

If the same person is convicted of committing the same crime at or near a senior housing facility the second time, the fine range would increase to between $5,000 and $15,000, and the minimum jail term would increase to 150 days, which is around 5 months. If the person commits the same crime any more times, the fine range would increase to between $10,000 and $20,000, and the offenders would need to spend no less than six months in jail.

If a person is convicted of illegally possessing a weapon laser sight, a silencer or a muffler would have to pay the same fines as possession or sale of assault weapons, but the minimum jail terms wouldn't be quite as long. They would have to serve at least 30 days for the first offense and at least 90 days for a second offense.

If a person is convicted of owning or selling a weapon that isn't a firearm, the fine is between $500 and $1,000, and they must spend between 30 days and six months in jail. For the second offense, the fine goes up to between $1,000 and $2,000, and the minimum jail term would be 90 days. For the subsequent offenses, the fine range increase to between $2,000 and $5,000, and they would have to spend six months in jail. 

Before an ordinance goes before the Chicago City Council, it must first clear whatever committee best fits its purpose – in this case, the Committee on Public Safety. If an ordinance clears the committee, it usually gets considered at the next City Council meeting.

Taliaferro said he requested a vote on his ordinance to be pushed back because the officials from the City of Chicago Law Department weren't able to attend the meeting to answer questions, and he wanted to make sure any legal issues could be addressed.

The Chicago City Clerk's office, which is responsible for posting meeting notices, doesn't have a date listed for the next meeting as of Jan. 13. The Committee of Public Safety usually meets once a month.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

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