How many fewer criminal charges were filed last year due to pandemic
You can count suburban criminal court filings among the many items the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on in 2020.
Whether it was a lack of opportunity when stores, restaurants and other businesses were shut down, fewer drivers on the road, or police and prosecutorial staffs being stretched by quarantines, felony and misdemeanor filings took big drops compared to 2019 numbers.
Lake County saw the largest decline, with felony case filings falling 27% last year. DuPage County was next at 18%, followed by McHenry County at 8.8% and Kane County at 7.9%.
Through the end of October in Cook County, felony filings were down 15.7%. The biggest drop there coincided with the start of the state's stay-at-home order in the second quarter of the year, with 3,566 fewer filings in 2020 than in 2019.
DuPage County prosecutors filed their 900th felony case of 2019 on April 18. In 2020, the 900th case didn't hit the docket until May 21.
"Clearly, it (the decrease) was as a result of the stay-at-home order," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said.
Criminal charges that often arise out of traffic stops -- such as carrying weapons or drugs illegally -- were down because there was less traffic on the roads and fewer stops by police, Berlin said.
Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser said filings, especially misdemeanors, may have been down due to police staffing issues related to the pandemic.
Departments were stretched when officers became ill or had to quarantine. And some officers were diverted to other duties during the pandemic, such as investigating reports of large gatherings, restaurants serving customers indoors or other violations of state orders, Mosser said.
Two types of crime, however, did see an increase in DuPage: carjackings and armed robberies. There were 13 carjacking cases in 2020, Berlin said, compared to eight in 2019. Armed robberies went from 23 in 2019 to 30 in 2020.
"As our economy opens up, unfortunately I think this number (case filings) is going to go back up again," he said.
Immunity from vaccine scams
With many more people now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, suburban residents are scrambling to get in line for their shot.
And the scammers aren't far behind.
The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois issued a warning this week about scams related to the vaccine rollout, from "phishing" attempts to obtain your personal information to phony messages claiming you need to pay up to guarantee your place in line.
"Scammers follow the latest news and always look for opportunity, and the high emotions of fear and hope make COVID vaccines a perfect target," said BBB President and CEO Steve Bernas.
One common scam involves a phone call, email or social media message saying you're eligible for the vaccine, but to schedule an appointment, you need to provide personal information -- which opens you to the risk of identity fraud -- and payment upfront.
To protect yourself, the BBB recommends you:
• Know your region's plan for rolling out the vaccine, and be sure to check any solicitation or information with your local government or official news sources.
• Research carefully and be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true. Be aware that none of the vaccines can be currently purchased online or in stores.
• Check with your doctor or, if you don't have a primary care physician, check out your local health department's official website for more information.
• Never offer your Medicare ID number, Social Security number, health plan information, or banking information to anyone you don't know or trust.
Camera rules rile chiefs
Two weeks ago, we detailed some of the many objections suburban police leaders have with a massive criminal justice reform bill passed by state lawmakers this month and awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker's signature.
Since then, another point of contention has come to our attention, courtesy of Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis.
In an email to Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak, Kreis wrote that while the bill requires all officers be equipped with body-worn cameras by 2025, it places an inexplicable restriction on their use -- it prevents officers from reviewing camera footage while writing reports.
"This is typically most useful in documenting complicated matters such as investigating impaired drivers and other crimes," Kreis wrote. "It's also very useful when officers are present during a crime in progress and can confirm information for the investigation, such as a description of a person or vehicle, maybe even a license plate or other important fact."
"What public interest is served by inaccurate police reports?" he asked. "What public interest is served by limiting factual information that is incorporated in a police report? Who benefits from inaccurate police reports?"
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