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Sheriff candidates differ on what to cut
3 Democrats agree that jail staffing is most pressing issue

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Democratic candidates for Cook County sheriff suggested everything from eliminating boot camp to reducing the number of liaisons to other agencies as they squared off Wednesday over the best way to add jail guards.

Tom Dart, who is Sheriff Michael Sheahan's chief of staff and the party's slated candidate for the job, said he would first conduct a staffing analysis of all personnel to determine where the fat is.

Sylvester Baker Jr., a retired sheriff's officer, said he would start by bringing back officers detailed to federal agencies such as the FBI and by eliminating high-level "cronies" to free up money for guards.

Richard Remus, a former jail official, said the funding would be available if programs he considers extraneous, such as the boot camp for low-level offenders, were eliminated.

"The money's there, and I'll show you," Remus said during a meeting of the Tribune editorial board attended by all three candidates. "There's officers everywhere. There are jobs that are created that really have no function other than they ... look good on paper."

Dart, Baker and Remus are vying for the Democratic nomination for sheriff in the March 21 primary. The winner is expected to face Republican Peter Garza in the November election to replace Sheahan, who is retiring after four terms.

The candidates agreed that among the most pressing issues facing the sheriff's office is the jail.

U.S. District Judge George Marovich all but ordered the hiring of additional jail guards last month after the release of a county-funded report that determined an additional 668 correctional officers were needed.

County Board President John Stroger unveiled his proposed 2006 budget three days after the study was released and included no new jail guards, although Sheahan had asked for an extra 250 in his request.

"Do we need to hire everybody today or tomorrow? No," Dart said. "Judge Marovich has been open to staggered hiring."

If elected, Dart said one of his first priorities would be a staffing study of the entire office, which includes court deputies, patrol officers, janitors and other functions.

"My goal is to do a top-to-bottom analysis of people and find out if we have folks that are, frankly, in positions that are no longer necessary or could be done by somebody else," Dart said.

Baker said 50 to 100 more guards could be added simply by recalling officers currently detailed to federal agencies. The officers "would resent it, but it could happen," Baker said.

Also, Baker added, "you've got exempt positions filled with cronies. ... You can fill those positions with new correctional officers."

Crowding problems at the jail have eased significantly in recent months as the population has bounced around the 9,000 mark, down from an average of more than 11,000 in 2002. There are more than 10,000 beds, although frequently some are taken off-line for maintenance.

Despite fewer inmates in the jail, the recent study said additional staffing is still required in part to eliminate activities such as "cross watching," when one correctional officer keeps an eye on two living areas.



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