Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx visited Maywood to set the record straight about the role and responsibilities of her office, which she said are widely misunderstood, and to explain her position on charged issues like cash bail reform, which goes into effect on Jan. 1.
“People have had conversations about our justice system and some people are knowingly wrong, and some people just don’t know,” Foxx said during a community conversation held Dec. 13 at PLCCA, 411 Madison St. in Maywood.
“If you watch the news, you will see an incident has happened and usually they end with saying, ‘No arrests have yet been made,’” Foxx said. “People seem to believe that every time an incident occurs, there’s an arrest, and it then comes to our office.”
Foxx said her office does not investigate crimes once they occur; instead, they only get involved once police officers make an arrest on a felony charge. A felony is a crime for which someone can be sentenced to more than a year in prison.
The State’s Attorney’s office then must review if there’s enough evidence to charge someone with a felony crime. The State’s Attorney’s Felony Review Unit is responsible for reviewing and initiating felony cases. Law enforcement can only directly file felony narcotics cases, Foxx said.
Foxx said the work involved in turning a felony arrest into a felony case that ultimately results in charges and sentencing is not as easy as it may seem on TV crime shows like “Law and Order.”
“That is not how it goes,” she said. “It is not as easy as one might think … Our job in the Felony Review Unit is to look at evidence brought to us and make a determination whether we have enough evidence to substantiate bringing charges where we believe we’d get a likelihood of conviction — not a guarantee of conviction because there is no guarantee of conviction — but can we meet our burden?”
Still, Foxx said, contrary to speculation about her office being lax on crime and criminals, the overwhelming majority of felony arrests are approved by the Felony Review Unit.
According to the State’s Attorney’s Felony Dashboard, of the 7,787 cases presented to the Felony Review Unit for initiation in 2022, 5,349 were approved, 857 were rejected and 633 were continued for investigation.
“When we reject a case, it is not because of some theory we have that we want people to go out and harm folks,” Foxx said. “We want to charge cases where they’re appropriate and for the most part, we do.”
Foxx also cleared up misconceptions about her office’s authority in detaining suspects. She said judges have that authority, not the State’s Attorney’s office.
“A judge makes a determination as to whether or not someone is held in custody or not,” she said. “Now listen here. Do you know how many times I have heard, ‘Kim Foxx has let people out of jail’? I don’t have the power to let anyone out of jail. That is not a determination that the State’s Attorney’s office makes.”
Effective Jan. 1, Illinois will be the first state in the nation to completely eliminate cash bail. Foxx said she supports the measure.
“I am supportive of bail reform,” she said. “But just because I am supportive of bail reform does not magically empower me to let people out of jail … The system right now allows for you to be charged with a violent offense and write a check to go home. I find that fundamentally problematic.”
Foxx said the current bail system allows violent offenders who can afford to post bail to go free while low-level, non-violent offenders who can’t afford bail must languish in jail.
“There was a man who stole a $300 pair of Jordans back in 2016 … who had a $1,000 bond,” Foxx recalled. “He didn’t have it. So he sits there pre-trial; he is not yet found guilty. He spent more time waiting for his day in court in jail than the sentence he got afterward. Make it make sense.”
Foxx said Illinois currently has the lowest thresholds for felony shoplifting in the country. In Wisconsin, the threshold is $2,000 worth of merchandise stolen and in Indiana it’s $750. In Illinois, however, it’s $300.
“I’m not condoning stealing … but something is fundamentally wrong [when] our prosecutors are spending more time going after shoplifting than after guns,” she said, adding that 2016 was “the bloodiest year since 1999,” with “somewhere around 900” homicides in Cook County, the second-largest county in the country.
“The number one referred prosecution to our office Felony Review Unit wasn’t guns or murder — it was shoplifting,” Foxx said. “Seventy percent of the people in our jail in 2016 were there for nonviolent offenses … they couldn’t afford their bond.”
When bail reform takes effect on Jan. 1, Foxx said, if “you’re charged with murder or a violent offense, you can’t write a check and get out. We now have to say you have to be held. There is no amount of money you can post to get out. You are a danger to the public and your danger won’t go away just because somebody said to give me $1 million. That’s what’s changing.”
Pivoting to the issue of electronic monitoring, Foxx said that her office is not responsible for putting people on electronic monitoring devices; judges have that responsibility.
“With the rise of violent crime, people have been given bail amounts for having a gun or having shot a gun, and they’re able to pay that amount,” she said. “So what judges have done is say, ‘If they’re going to get out, I want to put a bracelet on their ankle.’ So we see this large population of people on electronic monitoring because we have a system in place right now for some folks we could not detain in jail … These are complicated things [and] I think we have a moral responsibility in law enforcement to tell the truth.”
Foxx also said she’s not anti-police, contrary to what some people may claim. She said her office relies on police officers to be credible to secure convictions.
“Why would it behoove me to tear you down? Make it make sense. The reason I talk about those officers who have defiled the badge … These are officers whom the courts have said are not credible. I don’t just randomly [pick on officers] …
“The breakdown between community and the police is real, and if I, as the State’s Attorney, don’t acknowledge that, I can’t expect you to come into my courthouse and just say, ‘Trust me.’ Not in Cook County, not when we have led the country for the last four years in wrongful convictions … The people who defile their badges make their jobs harder. That’s why I talk about it. I am not anti-law enforcement.”