Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx
Kim Foxx: Ready For Battle!
Special Correspondent: MG Media
Last year, newly elected Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx and the University of Chicago Crime Lab hosted a discussion on the state of low-level drug offenses in Cook County and the prosecutor’s role in addressing addiction. Dan Satterberg, the Chief Prosecutor of King County in Washington, shared his experience of connecting more people to mental health and addiction treatment in lieu of incarceration. Bolstering these social services paved the way for a policy shift in his office, which no longer prosecutes most non-violent cases of possession of small amounts of illegal controlled substances.
State’s Attorney Foxx and Prosecutor Satterberg have each seen addiction up close. During the convening, both prosecutors shared how their personal experiences have shaped their views on addiction as a public health crisis and their approach to criminal justice. “I know all too well the devastating effects of untreated mental illness and addiction, as I witnessed my mother’s personal struggles,” said Foxx. “When we simply prosecute but don’t treat the root issue, the result is an endless cycle. Today’s discussion is one of many steps my office is taking to create systemic change where those who need critical treatment and services receive intervention – not incarceration.”
King County’s Chief Prosecutor Satterberg added, “The war on drugs has been focused on drug users. They have a disease. If you believe it’s a disease, you should treat it like it is diabetes or cancer. We shouldn’t arrest people and put them in jail because they are sick.” The King County Prosecutor’s Office is a founding partner in the creation of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a national model creating a compassionate response to drug-addicted people and giving police additional tools for responding to people with addiction and mental health issues.
“We have an important opportunity in Cook County to improve the way we support individuals with unmet substance abuse and mental health needs. We are encouraged by efforts already underway to reduce the criminal justice system exposure for this population,” said Roseanna Ander, founding executive director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab. Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli and other public-safety officials, public health professionals, service providers, and advocates joined at the convening.
In a past interview with Crain’s, the Cook County state’s attorney talked about equity and priorities, and her decision to downplay many shoplifting cases and a lot more. State’s Attorney Foxx stated that she was ready for one heck of a fight to win a new term as Cook County’s top prosecutor, and she was not backing down! Foxx’s defense of her tenure generally was clear and unstinting. The county’s first African American female prosecutor promised to focus on certain things, including equity and smart prosecution. And she said she’s done just that.
“This is an office that was mired in reputational damage before,” she said, noting that 60 Minutes just a few years ago referred to Chicago as the “false confession capital. This is the city where a (rogue police commander) ran wild,” she continued. “But now, after the change, we’re a national model.” And in the upcoming years, “I’m looking forward to the chance to tell people what we’ve done and what we will continue to do.” One change has been to focus the office’s resources on solid, winnable cases rather than taking a scattershot approach, she said, giving the example of charging everyone in a car in which a gun was found with illegal possession, even though only one person could be legally culpable.
Another is that extensive office records about the status of cases have been filed on the internet, “40 million data points” worth. A new conviction integrity unit so far has unearthed and vacated 80 improper convictions. The office’s felony bench-trial conviction rate has jumped “30 points” from where it was under her predecessor. Foxx, underlined that city crime rates, while still high, have been dropping since she took office. She suggested that’s proof that her policies are not too lenient but smart and equitable.
Foxx shrugged off complaints that “she’s ignoring the law,” with prosecutions way down and losses due to theft way up. Foxx conceded that the line her office draws between a felony and a misdemeanor shoplifting prosecution—the office does not keep track of the number of misdemeanor cases—is cases involving goods worth at least $300. Instead, she said she draws the line at $1,000, similar to the practice in neighboring states. It’s a question of priorities,” she argued.
Mrs. Foxx is an iconic politician. She was first elected to this position on November 8, 2016. She is the second African American, after Cecil A. Partee, to hold this position. Foxx’s vision is to transform the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office into a fairer, more forward-thinking agency focused on rebuilding the public trust, promoting transparency, and being proactive in making all communities safe. Kim has undertaken substantial criminal justice reforms focused on public safety and equity.
Kim played a vital role in passing legislation to legalize cannabis and provide the broadest and most equitable conviction relief possible. Providing this relief is not only a critical part of righting the wrongs of the failed war on drugs that disproportionately harmed communities of color; it is also a statement of her values and commitment to justice for all. Kim is the first and the only prosecutor in the country to make felony case-level data available to the public. The open data portal provides unprecedented access and transparency into the work of a prosecutor’s office. Her goal is to make Cook County the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country.
Also during her first term, in trying to implement her policy changes, Foxx had faced resistance, especially from police unions. Foxx campaigned on the costs of over-criminalizing behavior. “We can’t keep trying to scare people into believing that the solution to our ills is locking everybody up and we’ll all feel better and be safer,” she said in arguing for treatment programs, community-based initiatives, and prevention.
In response to Foxx’s policies and the resulting lower prosecution rates, an association of suburban police chiefs and Chicago’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, issued a vote of no confidence in Foxx and demanded her resignation in April 2019. At the same time, police are angry about the way Foxx’s office has dealt with officer misconduct, particularly the exonerations of dozens of people arrested on drug charges by a corrupt cop, who later went to prison himself.
Despite the blowback from police unions, Foxx’s policies have been praised by community activists and even defense attorneys. In June, a public defender of Cook County, wrote in an op-ed, “Never before have we had a prosecutor prioritize resources for more serious cases while diverting less serious cases—until Foxx.” The State’s Attorney’s Office works to uphold public safety through the fair and efficient administration of justice.