Violent crime on the minds of Republican attorney general candidates

Crime was foremost on the minds of Republican attorney general candidates Steve Kim and David Shestokas when they discussed the role the state's top legal officer should play in combating it during a joint interview before the Daily Herald editorial board.

If elected, Kim, of Deerfield, says he will be "laser-focused" on crime and use the office's bully pulpit to speak out against state's attorneys who politicize it.

He opposes the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today Act, the criminal justice reform legislation signed into law last year. Known as the SAFE-T Act, it includes police certification changes, body camera requirements, use-of-force reforms and the elimination of cash bail. The law goes into effect in January.

"I'm against abolishing cash bail because it denies crime victims their constitutional rights," said Kim, adding that "what we're doing right now is weakening habitual crime statutes and stripping away charges for felony murder."

Kim also expressed concern over the release of repeat offenders, which he said "endangers the general public and it also endangers law enforcement." Shestokas, of Orland Park, said the attorney general's office can be more than a bully pulpit.

"I would call attention to the Attorney General Act that says the Illinois attorney general can be involved and will be involved in any case in which the people or the state have an interest," he said, adding "every criminal case is captioned 'the people of Illinois vs. the defendant.'"

Shestokas, who said he was involved in more than 400 felony prosecutions during his tenure as an assistant Cook County state's attorney, criticized Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx for an initiative that allows prosecutors to request judges resentence prisoners whose "original sentence no longer advances the interest of justice."

He said the resentencing initiative is contrary to the Constitution.

"There's only one authority that can modify sentence after it becomes final, and that is the executive authority. The governor is supposed to provide commutations, alter sentences, provide pardons," he said. "It is not up to the judiciary or local prosecutors."

The law states that prosecutors may petition for resentencing in the interest of justice and that judges may, at their discretion, resentence an inmate to less time. Judges may consider the inmate's disciplinary record, rehabilitation, age, time served and physical condition.

According to the Cook County state's attorney, prosecutors cannot request resentencing for those who have not served at least the minimum sentence for their crime or who are serving mandatory sentences, such as mandatory life in prison.

Violent crime is not typically an issue the attorney general's office takes on, but Kim and Shestokas say it should play a greater role in addressing an issue Kim describes "absolutely critical right now."

Pointing Chicago's murder and carjacking rates, he said "the impact of crime deteriorates economic development, and it causes people to flee."

"This cannot be an issue up to federal prosecutors or local state's attorneys," he added. "I believe the attorney general's office needs to take leadership."

Kim said he would establish a task force to look into how the office can provide resources and investigatory skills to assist county prosecutors. He also stated he would use the Illinois Street Gang and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to combat crime, especially gang-related crime.

Republican candidate Thomas DeVore of downstate Sorrento did not complete a candidate questionnaire and did participate in the Daily Herald editorial board interview.

The winner of the June 28 Republican primary will face Democratic incumbent Kwame Raoul in the November general election.

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