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City Council casts ‘wider net,’ expands gun offender registry

City Clerk SusanMendozreturns City Council after having baby.  Wednesday March 13 2013 | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times

City Clerk Susana Mendoza returns to the City Council after having a baby. Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:19AM

Chicago’s gun offender registry would be broadened to include anyone who commits a violent crime with a firearm, thanks to a wider net cast by the City Council on Wednesday to boost paltry registration.

“It seems to work in New York. It seems to work in Baltimore and it seems to work in Washington D.C.,” said Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the chief sponsor.

“Even if it doesn’t wave a magic wand about violent crime, it’s one more tool in the Police Department’s quiver of arrows to deal with the kind of crime we’re witnessing here in Chicago.”

Three years ago, the City Council agreed to require people convicted of unlawful use or possession of a weapon to register with the Police Department within 48 hours after their release from prison.

The gun offender registry was included in legislation rushed into law after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s toughest-in-the-nation ban on new handguns.

The problem is, the ordinance has been widely ignored. The registry now has only 584 names. Another 74 people who haven’t registered are being sought by police.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Burke persuaded his colleagues to “cast a wider net” to boost meager registration.

At Burke’s behest, aldermen approved an ordinance broadening the gun registry umbrella to include an array of violent crimes with a firearm, including kidnapping, assault, battery, home invasion, robbery, vehicular hijacking and armed violence.

The time offenders have to register after being released from prison was extended — from 48 hours to five days.

The registry includes the names, aliases, birth dates, height, weight, eye color and driver’s license number of every offender, as well as a photo ID and details of their convictions.

Offenders are further required to tell police where they work and report to the Police Department in person every six months.

Before the final vote, Burke reiterated the arguments he made during a committee hearing last week.

He noted gun offender registries in Baltimore, New York and Washington have had a “deterrent effect on people who might be tempted to commit gun crimes again” — and traditionally have a higher rate of recidivism.

Fewer than 5 percent of 1,669 gun offenders in Baltimore have been arrested again on gun charges and just 25 percent have been re-arrested for any new charges, the alderman said. Washington, D.C., reported similar numbers.

Burke further argued that, like sex offender registries, the dossier of gun offenders would be a valuable tool for parents who take their kids to a classmate’s home for a play date and for police officers who roll up to a domestic violence call or make a street stop.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, has questioned whether the Police Department has the manpower to handle a surge in gun offender registrations.

“There’s a lot of offenses here… How many more people do we anticipate [needing]? ... If we pass this and we have 10,000 or 15,000 more [registrations] that are required for the Police Department to satisfy these things, what kind of situation does that put us in?” Cochran said last week.

“If we get to a point where we have too many and we can’t address it, then it puts the city of Chicago and the Police Department in a quandary for an ordinance we passed that we cannot accommodate.”

Despite a manpower shortage that has forced the city to make heavy use of moonlighting officers in high-crime areas, Chief of Detectives Tom Byrne has assured the alderman that the Police Department can handle it.

“Having these registrants — knowing who they are — helps policemen on the street. It’s an officer safety issue. I think we will get the needed resources to get the job done,” Byrne said last week.

Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel persuaded the City Council to broaden the requirement for reporting the loss, theft, sale or transfer of firearms to all gun owners — and double the jail time for an array of gun violations — to stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets.

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