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City Council hikes fines, jail terms for ‘quality of life’ crimes

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over City Council meeting Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over the City Council meeting Wednesday.

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Updated: May 12, 2013 1:51PM

Chicago offenders caught drinking, gambling and urinating on the public way will no longer be free to ignore their citations with impunity and blow off their administrative hearings — at least not without risking jail time.

Ignoring concern about the impact on overcrowded Cook County Jail, the City Council agreed Wednesday to throw the book at those offenders, up to 70 percent of whom are currently in default because they don’t fear the consequences.

Aldermen approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to add six months of jail time and double the maximum fine — to $1,000 for drinking and urinating on the public way and $400 for gambling — for violators who fail to pay their initial fines and are no-shows at administrative hearings.

Similar penalties are already in the place for offenders who ignore their marijuana tickets.

Prior to the final vote, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) raised concerns about the impact on jail overcrowding if the city throws the book at quality of life offenders who blow off their fines and hearings.

He warned his colleagues to keep a “watchful eye” for the next two years on the “unintended consequences” of adding jail time.

“I don’t know if this ordinance is as well thought out as it can be,” said Fioretti, who nevertheless voted in favor of the ordinance.

“We had better be careful, careful, careful about what we’re doing.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) acknowledged that urinating on a lawn is not that big a deal, but drinking and gambling have been plaguing his West Side ward for too long, setting the stage for more serious crimes.

“If they have to spend the night for having no respect for our community,” so be it, Ervin said.

As for the possibility of exacerbating jail overcrowding, Ervin said, “If it needs to be ferreted out, let it be ferreted out [later]. But tonight, let `em stay in because we’re tired of dealing with these issues.”

Deputy chief of patrol Steve Georgas has argued that it’s high time the city gets tough on violations that, if left unpunished, can have a “profound and cumulative effect” and “ruin the social fabric” of a neighborhood, setting the stage for more serious crimes.

“For these three offenses, the rates of default have been in the 50 to 70 percent range. ... Residents forced to observe these behaviors eventually become numb to these violations of decency,” Georgas told aldermen last week.

“This sort of unchecked behavior will then lead to further disorder and can ultimately lead to other crimes, such as [prostitution], narcotics sales and gang loitering. That is why it is imperative that we enforce these quality of life issues that are being ignored.”

At last week’s committee hearing, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) sought assurances that Chicago Police would be “careful” with the new tool and use it to target the “right people” instead of “going after vulnerable populations or the homeless.”

Georgas replied, “The law is the law. We treat everything in the same manner. We look at everybody in the same manner.”

Cracking down on quality of life crimes that can set the stage for more serious offenses is something Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has been harping on since the day he arrived in Chicago from Newark, N.J.

The threat of jail time against minor offenders comes at a time when Cook County Jail is overcrowded once again.

It’s not clear what, if any, impact the crackdown will have on the jail population. Inundated Chicago Police officers are expected to enforce the crackdown during the course of pursuing more serious crimes.

Also on Wednesday, aldermen approved an ordinance championed by West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) that would refer parents of chronic curfew violators to counseling and empower administrative hearing officers to compel those parents to attend.

Gene Roy, commander of youth investigations for the Chicago Police Department, has said the counseling ordinance is aimed at parents struggling with problems that get in the way of parenting, such as alcohol and substance abuse or anger management.

“What we’re trying to do is provide the parents with the resources so they can improve their parenting skills, address any underlying conditions in the home,” Roy told aldermen last week.

“The goal is to support the family so that we’re seeing kids stay home and seeing the parents take charge of their respective households.”

In 2009, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley turned back the curfew clock by 30 minutes — to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends for Chicago’s 730,000 kids under the age of 17.

The curfew remained the same until 2011 when it was rolled back even more for kids under 12 — to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends.

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