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Commissioners question hospital police

Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County's special hospital police force may be disbanded after board President Bobbie Steele and other commissioners questioned the need for the force in the wake of misconduct complaints.
Steele said the police force could be replaced with a cheaper private security firm that may not have as many issues with insensitivity.
"We might not need to have ... police," Steele said. "We've had private security at our other facilities, and we've had fewer problems."
Cook County's Hospital Security Police Department is a separate, 65-officer police force that reports to the county, county officials said. It derives its authority from the state of Illinois, Steele said, and state legislation would be needed to disband it.
Officers of that force came under fire Tuesday after three people complained at the board meeting.
Karen Salasblacnas' father, 77-year-old Augustin Sotomayor, was allegedly dragged out of his car, thrown to the ground and insulted by hospital police on Sept. 11 while waiting for his wife, who works at the county's CORE center. Three officers have been suspended and are under investigation.
"Everyone must be accountable for their actions, especially if they are criminal," Salasblacnas said.
She called for the hospital police to be disarmed, psychological testing of officers to be increased, video cameras to be installed and a complaints hot line to be created.
Steele said some of Salasblancas suggestions were low-cost, such as the hot line, and she would implement them soon.
But two other speakers, both hospital employees, said that Sotomayor's beating was not the first problem they've had with hospital police, and they called for disbanding the agency.
CORE center radiology technologist Roy Chavadiyil, chief steward for the facility's chapter of the Service Employee's International Union, said other employees have been harassed by police.
In Sotomayer's case, doctors and administrators tried to intervene but were ignored by hospital police, Chavadiyil said.
"Police officers even threatened to arrest the CEO of the CORE center," he said. "Who has the authority to make decisions?"
Health bureau officials could not confirm Tuesday whether police made any such threat.
Stroger Hospital clerk Rose Minge said she was manhandled by a pair of police officers and repeatedly shoved into a wall in April when coming into the hospital to get her paycheck on her day off. She was in a jogging suit and not her uniform, she said, but she was wearing her hospital ID on her chest.
"I was humiliated and ashamed," Minge said.
She put a complaint into the county's inspector general on May 4 and never heard back, she said. She was suspended from her job for five days because the officers involved said she failed to follow police instructions and hit them.
Commissioners in the room were sympathetic to both employees, and Steele promised to investigate Minge's case.
"There's something wrong here in the attitude of the law enforcement staff we have," said Commissioner Carl Hansen (R-Mount Prospect).

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