Kim Foxx: Prosecutorial Reform
December 8, 2016 (Fault Lines) — After defeating Anita Alvarez in the Democratic primary and the formality of the general election, Kim Foxx took over as Cook County State’s Attorney last week. Following through on some of the promises she made to improve on Anita Alvarez’s tenure, she announced a series of reforms:
Foxx said she wants to tackle violent crime by identifying and pursuing the most dangerous criminals and improving communications among her office’s bureaus — including traffic and child support — to add to the pressure on those violent offenders.
Which is the usual political blather…improving communications between the traffic division and collection agency with arrest powers child support division isn’t going to do anything to get murderers and armed robbers off the street. It sure makes for good copy, though. What else ya got, Kim?
She laughed incredulously at how the state’s attorney’s office has long had units devoted to crimes such as car theft but no team assigned to target gun crimes. She said not enough attention has been focused on the massive number of firearms available in Chicago.
Meh. This is pretty sloppy thinking. A carjacking at gunpoint and a domestic assault at gunpoint are two completely different animals. A prosecutor in a “special unit devoted to gun crimes” needs a somewhat different set of tools to prosecute each of them; so its not really clear why a gun crimes unit makes more sense than a specialized DV unit. Again, it makes for a good sound bite but probably is a wash when it comes to actually improving anything.
Foxx has turned to Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan Jr. to reorganize the office’s conviction integrity unit, created by Alvarez in 2012. The conviction review unit Sullivan created and ran for the Brooklyn, N.Y., district attorney’s office has an independent advisory panel staffed by outside attorneys that issues nonbinding recommendations on whether convictions should be dismissed.
“It’s a top priority of ours,” she said, adding that Sullivan, whom she named a co-chair of her transition team, “has real concerns about the way in which our unit has been comprised.”
Better, though as always the devil’s in the details. Sullivan’s presence does provide some credibility, as Sullivan has a pretty impressive resume and Brooklyn’s Conviction Review Unit is the real deal. This also gives me hope that the show I love to hate-watch, Conviction, will become like CSI and get a Chicago franchise, starring Evil Jenna Bush instead of Evil Chelsea Clinton. It’ll be epic.
Foxx said her office is looking at not waiting for months or years while the Independent Police Review Authority completes its investigation of police shootings. She has previously said she wants a special prosecutor to investigate all police-related shootings.
“We’re looking at our authority to go in immediately like with the other cases, collect evidence and do a parallel investigation so … that we get results in a timelier fashion,” she said. “Waiting for secondhand information to come after the completion of an investigation by another agency and then reviewing their work months later, I don’t think necessarily gives us the best results.”
This is actually a really good idea, and to be expected, since the reason Alvarez lost was her shenanigans regarding the Laquan McDonald case. This will be a political challenge as well a legal one, since she’ll likely have to pick a fight with the police union and its public relations machine.
Foxx also wants to create a chief data officer position to help fill in the “big gaps” in knowledge in how the office is handling criminal cases — such as the number that end in plea deals. She said the office plans to make that data public.
I find it hard to believe that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office doesn’t know exactly how many cases it’s pleading out, or at least that they can’t find out very quickly. Nevertheless, transparency is generally a good thing, and as long they’re being transparent with the raw data so that others can do their own analysis, chalk this up as a plus.
Here’s the thing: it’s only the first week of Foxx’s tenure, so expecting much more than platitudes at this point is premature. The tightrope that Foxx has to balance on requires striking a balance between the day to day work of prosecuting crimes in America’s third largest city and whatever reforms she hopes to make. That will take more than a week, more than a year, perhaps more than one State’s Attorney. Especially with regards to more aggressive investigation of police shootings, she’s at least making noises in the right direction. Here’s hoping she follows through.