ST. CHARLES – Looking at his department’s newly compiled annual report for 2017, felony filings were up for the second year, showing an almost 7 percent increase, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said at his monthly media briefing Feb. 6.
“It reversed a multiyear trend of declining felony cases,” he said, noting the number of new felony files stood at 2,413. “That is something we’re certainly watching.”
He cited an uptick last year of about 447 new felony drug-related cases, calling it a significant spike from 2016, showing a 42 percent increase. Of those cases, 48 percent involved cocaine, 18 percent heroin, 12 percent large-scale quantities of marijuana and the remainder synthetic substances such as fentanyl.
“Heroin remains a major concern,” he said. “Our coroner has reported and confirmed 67 opiate-related deaths in 2017, about the same as 2014 and 2015 combined.”
McMahon said there was a 17 percent decrease in the number of juvenile cases, praising the combined efforts of different agencies.
He cited partners in the judicial system, from the leadership of Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles and Circuit Court Judge Clint Hull to Kane County Court Services Director Lisa Aust.
He said the focus is to make residential placement through the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice a last resort, and instead to try to change behavior through the diversion program, counseling and educational programs.
The diversion programs, in such areas as drugs and alcohol and domestic violence for low-level, nonviolent, nonrepeat offenders, also were lauded.
“We’ve had remarkable [success] in changing behaviors … very low recidivism,” McMahon said. “That has a much better outcome for the community [and] for the individuals who come into the system. [It] doesn’t mark them with [a] scarlet letter of a felony conviction for the rest of their life.”
He said the department’s focus should be on career criminals and people who inflict serious harm on victims.
He also praised police chiefs across the county for embracing community outreach in neighborhoods along with law enforcement accountability, saying he believes it builds trust in the most diverse communities in the region.
The first full year of crisis intervention team training to better deal with people facing mental health issues will kick off with a session the week of March 12. McMahon said all 34 law enforcement agencies were notified, and the program filled up within the hour, with a wait list established. Four sessions are planned for 2018. He said the training will save lives in the community and also lead to better outcomes for officers.
McMahon said the denial of an appeal to reinstate a grant for his department’s Victims’ Rights Unit prompted him to write a letter to the office of the governor Feb. 5.
The program, which gave victims of violent crime and their families access to advocates working on their behalf in the court system, ended after federal grant money was denied in December for fiscal year 2018. He said many of the services had to be eliminated.
He noted that for more than 20 years, the department had received funding for the program from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which distributes federal money from the U.S. Department of Justice authorized by the Victims of Crime Act.
The grant application sought $104,368, for which Kane County would provide a match of $59,982. The combined total of $164,350 would have continued to fund three full-time positions.
“In total, $2,812,463 in federal victim service funds were designated to 16 agencies [in that category],” Cristin Evans, public information officer for the ICJIA, stated in an email, noting that only the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office was turned down among the group of police departments and state’s attorney’s offices requesting the victim assistance grant.
The ICJIA also awarded grants to a variety of other organizations across the state for related services.
In McMahon’s letter to the governor’s office, he asked that direction be given to the ICJIA “to prioritize grant awards based on need and fulfillment of mandated responsibilities before [awarding] taxpayer funds to NGOs [nongovernmental agencies].”
He also referenced in the letter a recent email from ICJIA “informing me that crime victims and victim service providers indicate that legal services are needed post-victimization and that for many victims in Illinois this need is left unmet. Further, the irony of ICJIA denying our request for funding, yet awarding more than four times my request to an organization that has zero mandated functions and has no role in the criminal justice system is not lost on me.”
Evans shared a statement from ICJIA that reads in part:
“By law, ICJIA must use a merit-based process to make its funding decisions – applications are scored based on criteria that assess how well they respond to the questions and requirements in the agency’s notices of funding opportunity. This process is designed to protect state and federal grant making from political interference and get the best outcomes for the public. That is precisely what ICJIA did here.”
McMahon said the grant’s application process did change this time from a needs-based to competitive application. He added that his department is a lean operation that does not employ a professional grant writer, which may have weighed into the denial.
He said all of the recipient agencies and organizations provide important functions, but reiterated his belief that taxpayer dollars ought first to go to offices and agencies that have legally mandated responsibilities.
The full annual report for his office can be viewed at saopublic.co.kane.il.us.