A series of measures passed at the county and state levels last month, although not formally related to each other, could nonetheless amount to significant changes to the quality of life for West Side residents — particularly when considered together. Each of the legislative proposals passed their respective governing bodies in late July.

County stiffens penalties for violators of assault weapons ban

The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed an amendment to the county’s Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban at a board meeting on July 29. The amendment, sponsored by Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), changes a section of that ban to reflect stiffer penalties for anyone caught with illegal assault weapons.

First-time violators will now be subject to a fine between $5,000 and $10,000, with subsequent violations punishable by a fine up to $15,000, and a possible jail term of up to one year. The previous fine for first-time violators was between $1,000 and $5,000, with a subsequent fine of up to $10,000 and a possible jail term of up to six months.

Penalties for violating the assault weapons ban — which is named for 16-year-old Percy Julian High School honors student Blair Holt, who was murdered in 2007 by a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun — were last increased in 2013. This most recent round of increases went into effect as soon as they were passed.

Boykin said the stiffer penalties comprise point six of his Seven Point Plan to combat gun violence in Chicago, which he unveiled earlier this year.

“I am committed to enacting the plan the quickest, most practical way possible. But we cannot get it done all at once, then I will break it into pieces and attempt to pass it point by point […] one of those key pointed passed into law, and I am gratified while recognizing we still have a great deal more work to do,” Boykin noted in a statement.

Chicago police emergency response time audit could be on the horizon

At the state level, a house resolution introduced by state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th), and co-sponsored by state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th) passed the Illinois House of Representatives late last month.

The resolution urges Chicago’s Inspector General “to conduct a performance audit of the Chicago Police Department to determine and assess police emergency response times in Chicago neighborhoods and communities and to make recommendations to improve response times in primarily African American and Hispanic neighborhoods and communities,” according to a summary of the resolution on Legiscan.

The resolution cites a 2011 lawsuit filed against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA), which claimed that emergency police deployments are slower in predominantly African and American and Hispanic neighborhoods than those in other neighborhoods in the city.

“No matter where someone lives, they deserve a prompt response when they call 911 in an emergency situation,” Ford stated. “Even a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. With violent crime at extremely high levels in many communities, this audit should be performed as quickly as is possible so we can determine if more police need to be on the street, or if the department is placing a lower priority on minority neighborhoods.”

Rep. Ford said in an email statement that he’ll pressure the city to make sure that the IG conducts the audit.

“It is my understanding that the audit will take place,” he said. “I will be in communications with the IG for the city to make sure the mission is accomplished.”

New law to tighten pawnshop regulations statewide

Gov. Bruce Rauner approved a new law that would make it more difficult for pawnshops to sell items with missing serial numbers, and that would put a floor under how long pawnshops are required to hold onto products before they can sell or transfer them.

The law, which was primarily sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (39th) in the senate and Rep. Lilly in the house, amends the Pawnbroker Regulation Act. It goes into effect on January 1, 2016.

“A missing serial number — particularly on something dangerous like a gun or expensive like a phone or computer — is a real problem,” Harmon noted in a statement. “I know most pawnshops don’t want to support criminal activity, but if you resell a major item that’s missing its serial number, you very well might be.”

According to Harmon’s statement, pawnshops will be allowed to accept items that have worn serial numbers, but they’ll need to hold them for at least 15 days before sale. In addition, the law will require pawnshops “to hold on to all items for at least 10 days before sale or transfer (even to another store owned by the same company).”

“After seeing the patchwork of holding periods throughout the state, we decided to establish a baseline of 10 days to give law enforcement long enough to track down stolen property,” Harmon stated. “Cities like Chicago and Oak Park will still be able to set stricter requirements.”