More than 700 revoked Firearm Owner’s Identification cards are tied to Naperville, police reported this week. Of those, about 300 require further review and more than 100 are considered high risk cases.
Six Naperville officers are assigned to the task but the backlog of cases isn’t dwindling.
To balance the numbers game, police want to expand their investigation efforts, a request tentatively broached with elected officials last week and something that will be included in city budget discussions to be held later this month.
The Naperville Police Department is looking to bring in two additional officers to help enforce FOID violations in the city. The personnel request was one of several made to the Naperville City Council at a Sept. 26 budget workshop meeting, where staff proposed hiring a total of 18 new full-time employees in 2024 to close several departmental service gaps — public safety included.
In all, police asked for six additional officers in next year’s budget: four to fill out downtown patrols and two for the department’s strategic response unit, which is responsible for monitoring FOID issues in Naperville. The latter request would take the strategic unit from six officers to eight.
Raised briefly, the proposal warranted a limited reaction from council members last week. Only Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor offered feedback, saying she would be in support of all six new police officers requested. More formal decisions will be made after staff submit final budget recommendations Oct. 13.
Deputy Police Chief Chad Bissegger said their strategic response unit “can grow past (eight) for sure,” but in the perennial balance between funding and needs, two new hires for the group “is just chipping away at the problem as best we can.”
Illinois residents must possess a valid FOID card to legally purchase, or own, any firearm. When cards are revoked, holders are required by state law to surrender their IDs to the local law enforcement agency where they reside within 48 hours of receiving notice that they’re noncompliant.
Though possessing a FOID card doesn’t necessarily imply gun ownership, state law also requires revoked cardholders to turn in any guns they may have or transfer the firearms to someone who legally possess them.
According to Bissegger, 725 Naperville residents had revoked FOID cards as of Thursday. That’s a jump from a few years ago. Per a 2020 Chicago Tribune analysis of Illinois State Police data, 289 FOID cards were revoked in Naperville between 2015 and 2019.
The city’s strategic response unit wasn’t created until 2020. The initiative was, in part, motivated by the 2019 Henry Pratt Co. warehouse shooting in Aurora — in which a convicted felon killed five people and injured five police officers with a pistol he never should have been allowed to keep — and a reinvigorated focus on FOID card enforcement statewide that followed.
“That’s sort of the impetus or catalyst for this strategic response unit, among a myriad of other things,” Bissegger said, adding that the unit’s responsibilities aren’t only tied to FOID card enforcement. Generally, the unit’s purpose is to “proactively solve specific policing and community concerns,” Naperville’s website says.
By and large, though, among the critical tasks assigned to the unit is keeping track of revoked FOID cards. However, not every revocation requires extra probing.
Bissegger says the number today is more like 300 in Naperville.
“Some of these things can be fairly innocuous,” Bissegger said. “Somebody that just falls out of compliance because they’ve not renewed or there’s just something a little more benign about it.”
In those instances, notice is usually all it takes for someone to voluntarily deal with their FOID complications, Bissegger said. But when simply communicating revocation isn’t enough, police step in, though to varying levels depending on why someone’s card was rescinded or how long they’ve evaded enforcement.
“We have a tiered response level. … Sometimes that’s a knock on the door. Sometimes it’s traffic stops or surveillance or search warrants,” Bissegger said. “You know, there are differing levels of enforcement that we do within the game of ultimately getting some voluntary compliance.”
The highest priority cases are those designated “clear and present danger.” Those carry an elevated risk factor and are linked to what led to revocation.
FOID cards can be revoked for a number of reasons, including domestic violence-related infractions, mental health concerns and felony convictions. Illinois State Police criteria for clear and present danger is “persons who, if granted access to a firearm or ammunition, pose an actual imminent threat of substantial bodily harm to themselves or others.”
Bissegger said out of the 300 FOID revocation cases Naperville police need to investigate, about 107 are designated clear and present danger.
With current staffing levels, strategic unit officers have been capable of addressing one to three cases a month. The total count of revocations on any given day ebbs and flows, Bissegger said, but the amount of “workable cases” is relatively consistent. To make a bigger dent in the city’s standing volume of FOID investigations, more bodies are needed, he said.
“The cases are coming in at such a rate that require some additional personnel to address,” he said. “While we will always be playing catch up to a degree, two more bodies in that unit will allow us to have better coverage six days out of the week, to where we can dedicate more time and resources to investigating (revoked cards) than we could in the past.
“We have an obligation to society and to the community to be as proactive as we can be to enforce these things and hopefully prevent and curtail any of the mass violence type things that have been out there.”
Chicago Tribune reporters Cecilia Reyes and Sarah Freishtat contributed.