PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday August 28th, 2013, 5:13pm

Local Police Chiefs Talk Gun Violence Prevention With Congressman Schneider, State Rep. Drury

Local law enforcement officials say gun violence is plaguing Cook and Cook counties, and they called upon U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D, IL-10) and State Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood) for help Wednesday at a roundtable discussion on the matter. Progress Illinois was there for the meeting.

Local law enforcement officials say gun violence is plaguing Cook and Lake counties, and they called upon U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D, IL-10) and State Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood) for help Wednesday at a roundtable discussion on the matter.

Eight local police chiefs from the two counties said they’d be better equipped to tackle gun violence if they had a centralized database, which would allow local police departments to collaborate and share information about guns, drugs and gangs in their communities.   

Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko said tackling gun violence has to be a collaborative effort among local police departments because “they just don’t have the manpower” by themselves.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim also attended the roundtable discussion, which was hosted by Schneider. Nerheim and others at the table added that a county-wide gang unit would be a great help to quell gun violence in Lake County's suburbs.

Street gangs are the major cause of gun violence in the area, Nerheim said, but they often move across city boundaries. That’s particularly problematic, he said, for local police departments in Lake County that don’t have gang units, such as North Chicago.

Funding for both a centralized database and the implementation of a county-wide gang unit would have a “significant impact on these streets gangs,” he said.

But that alone won’t solve the “epidemic” of gun violence in local communities, those at the table said.

Don Sliozis, Deerfield’s police chief, also stressed that the sentencing for gun crimes is too lenient. And in Cook County, too many gun offenders are handed probation rather than jail time, Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Kushner added.

“We’re not seeing the offenders (of) gun crimes go to jail,” Kushner said.

Putting extra police on the street and ramping up funding for gang suppression efforts won’t make a difference in solving the issue of gun violence, Drury said, if the justice system is “just a revolving door, and you’re putting people in, but they’re coming right back out.”

Schneider said he would work to bring more resources to the local police departments for gang suppression efforts. The congressman also added that he'd look into ways to provide the local State's Attorney offices with more power to prosecute gun offenses.

But overall, there needs to be “a real cry for uniform gun laws,” Drury told the congressman. Unfortunately that can only be done at the federal level, Drury noted.

“You can have the toughest gun laws you want in any city in the nation, and it’s not going to stop someone from traveling over the Skyway and buying a gun in Indiana and bringing it back [to Chicago],” Drury said.

According to the local police chiefs, many of the illegal guns in Chicago and other parts of the state come from Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and from home burglaries.

Filenko showed Schneider a picture of an SKS rifle that fires AK-47 rounds. The gun was seized from a gang house in Round Lake Park. These are the type of “cop killer bullets and weapons” that are out on the streets, he said, and they are easily obtainable.

Schneider and the police chiefs said there is a great need to limit access to military-style weapons. Congress also needs to pass “sensible gun laws,” Schneider said, including a universal background check measure to help prevent guns from winding up in the wrong hands. According to Schneider, 40 percent of the guns in the country are bought without background checks. Illegal trafficking of guns should also be a federal crime, the congressman stressed.

Gun violence is a national problem, Schneider said, and it isn’t a “party issue”

“This is a people issue,” he said.

Schneider said the majority of Americans support universal background checks, according to the latest polling, but “we can’t get it to the floor for a vote.” 

A big reason for that, he said, is the heavy pressure on lawmakers from the National Rifle Association and other groups. Schneider said he has not yet felt that pressure, but added that tackling gun violence is a "fight that I’m not going to concede.”

Hopefully it won’t take another mass shooting like the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy for Congress to act on the issue of gun control, Schneider added.

Those at the table said it was important to talk about ways to prevent gun violence, but it can’t be just a one-time conversation, they said.

“I hope that this will be the beginning of a relationship with Congressman Schneider and the States Attorney’s Office to take some action to stop this gun violence epidemic that is killing our kids and our loved ones,” Drury said.

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