By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The last several months have been busy for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Meetings. Surveys. Conference Calls. More meetings.
It’s the groundwork that made up the first 100 days of Foxx’s new career as the county’s top prosecutor. They are the first steps that Foxx hopes will lead to a prosperous era at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Since her historic rise as the first Black female Cook County State’s Attorney, long days and heavy workloads have made the first 100 days of Foxx’s term a busy and quick one. The past three months have been a period of learning and team building for Foxx.
It has also been a challenging time that has forced Foxx to strip away layers of red tape to rebuild a beleaguered department that has lost the trust of so many Chicagoans over the years. The fire and passion that propelled Foxx to the top job still burns, but reality has crept in while expectations remain high after the tumultuous term of her predecessor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Accountability and transparency have been two big concerns since the Laquan McDonald scandal became an embarrassing and painful symbol of a justice system gone wrong. And with gun violence and rogue cops bedeviling Chicago in increasing numbers, Foxx inherited perhaps the biggest challenge of her legal career: to turn around the nation’s second largest prosecutor’s office that has nearly 900 attorneys among its 1,500 employees in 23 departments.
One of those departments, the Gun Crimes Strategy Unit is new, and among several changes that Foxx has created in her first 100 days in office. Several weeks ago, she gave a progress report during a speech at the tony City Club of Chicago. On Tuesday, March 21, she gave a 30-minute telephone interview to the Chicago Crusader.
During the conversation, Foxx said she created the Gun Crimes Strategy Unit to address the problems of gun violence. The task force will work closely with state and federal law enforcement officials to develop intelligence to identify violent criminals in Chicago’s most violent police districts.
Foxx said that at the 7th and 11th Police Districts in Englewood and on the West Side, there will be intelligence gathering and onsite attorneys who will pick up cases and stick with them as they prosecute offenders in courts. Foxx said she believes this will enhance the “integrity” of the cases.
After Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged, 13 months after killing McDonald, a swift process for bringing charges against individuals remains a big concern. In a major move, Foxx has restructured her organizational chart. Foxx said her policy is to make “prompt and clear charging decisions in officer-involved shooting cases.”
Foxx said her ultimate goal is building trust through transparency, and efficiency in handling cases.
Foxx has hired the office’s first Ethics Officer since 1974, and a Chief Diversity Officer. Foxx said their roles will be instrumental in creating and maintaining diversity within the State’s Attorney’s office.
Since entering office, Foxx has dropped charges in the wrongful convictions of the Marquette 4, which involved four men accused of robbery and homicide in 1995.
Some of Foxx’s other plans are long-term goals that will take more time to achieve. She wants to reduce the number of defendants who are in jail because they cannot afford to make bond or are mentally ill or addicted to drugs. She said her office has begun reviewing cases where people who are in jail have bond amounts for $1,000 or less.
Foxx also announced a policy where shoplifters will not be charged with retail theft if the goods are worth less than $1,000.
Real changes begin with the hundreds of employees of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, according to Foxx. She and her executive team have visited all offices at courthouses throughout Cook County. Foxx’s office also conducted a comprehensive survey and found that morale was low among employees. Foxx said she understood their frustrations from her 12 years as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney.
“A lot of people felt that they were languishing and didn’t have leadership to guide the way,” Foxx said. “I feel personally accountable for everyone in this office. I don’t want any of my employees to feel like they’re not valued.”
With a big system and procedures that have been around for decades, Foxx is pushing ahead. Still passionate, Foxx has been exposed to the realities of running a tough department. Chicago is ready to see change, but during her short time at the top, Foxx has learned it won’t come as quickly as some might expect.
“Our reforms are not going to happen overnight,” she said. “Reforms take time, especially for a system that needed reform for so long.”