State Police director details response to expressway shootings

By Grace Kinnicutt Capitol News Illinois

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly is pictured at a news conference at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency building in Springfield in January. He testified before a state task force on changes to the law that he said would aid in investigations of expressway shootings. (Capitol News Illinois file photo)

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly on Monday, March 7 outlined the department’s efforts and a proposed response to expressway shootings during a Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force hearing.

Kelly said expressway shootings are one of the biggest challenges officers face, and he noted that a good portion of expressway shootings are driven by fights that begin on social media.

“It’s almost like a modern day form of dueling,” Kelly said. “Whether it’s motivated by gang issues, personal issues, or neighborhood issues, they’ll say things to each other and then insult one another and say well let’s take it out on the E-way.”

He noted that people choose expressways since the speed allows suspects to escape more easily and increases the excitement, there are fewer cameras to capture what suspects are wearing and other identifying features, and it’s difficult to track down witnesses.

According to the ISP expressway shooting dashboard, from 2019 until now, there have been 543 expressway shootings. In 2021, there were 273 shootings on Chicago expressways.

When police investigate an expressway shooting, Kelly said, they have to obtain evidence from phones, cell towers and social media accounts to verify and identify people involved with violent shootings. Kelly said a deadline needs to be given to tech companies for information to be provided in a timely manner.

Kelly suggested that when it comes to violent and forcible felonies, lawmakers should change the statutes to allow tech companies 36 hours from the moment investigators deliver a search warrant to turn over information.

Rep. Frances Hurley, D-Chicago, asked what more the legislature can be doing to help with expressway shootings.

The Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. In 2021, there were 273 shootings on Chicago expressways. (Photo courtesy of University of Illinois)

Kelly said he would like to see aggravated discharge and reckless use of firearms further defined in the aggravated offenses section of the Illinois Criminal Code to reflect the inherent danger of the discharge of a firearm on the expressway.

“I just want to be clear that the things that we’re recommending and we’re discussing here are not broad,” Kelly said. “Let’s get to the actual language of the statute and update it to reflect the conduct that we see occurring that’s putting people at risk of public safety.”

Even when no one is killed or injured, Kelly said that discharging a firearm on an expressway should be considered as an aggravated and reckless discharge of a firearm due to the inherent danger to bystanders.

Kelly said lawmakers should consider expanding an automated license plate reader program to help identify those involved in expressway shootings.

Under the proposed Expressway Camera Act, ISP, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Toll Highway Authority would be required to work together to increase the number of cameras along expressways in Cook County.

In 2021, IDOT allocated $12.5 million to ISP for the purchase and installation of automated license plate readers to aid in expressway shooting investigations in Cook County. ISP has installed 99 automated license plate cameras across the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Installation also includes a communication system that backs up video images to a central location where additional software is then used to search and match license plates to existing license plate and vehicle databases.

Kelly also said the passing of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed budget for ISP would help in terms of staffing to address expressway shooting.

In the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, Pritzker proposed $18.6 million in general funds to support three ISP cadet classes to hire and train 300 officers with a portion of those officers patrolling expressways in the ISP Chicago district.

At a February news conference, Pritzker said ISP is working with the Chicago Police Department, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies to apprehend individuals. Pritzker and Kelly said more than 20 arrests have been made in recent months related to expressway shootings.

Kelly said the agency increased officer presence by 150 percent at “peak criminal activity times” on Chicago expressways. Since October 2021, the increased presence has led to nearly 5,000 traffic stops, 132 DUI arrests, 69 firearm recoveries and 133 criminal arrests.