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Stroger's budget cuts would increase crime, Devine says

Monday, December 25, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ERIC HERMAN Staff Reporter


Crime on the rise, plea-bargains galore, frustrated victims.
 
Cook County's top prosecutor foresees these and other ills if County Board President Todd Stroger gets his way.
 
With the county facing a $500 million deficit, State's Attorney Richard Devine says he knows budgets must be trimmed. But Stroger is demanding a 17 percent spending cut in all county offices, including Devine's -- a hit so drastic that the county would not have enough prosecutors to try cases or ensure that people who commit crimes land in jail, Devine warns.
 
"I have no doubt in my mind that it will increase crime," he said last week.
 
Devine has been preparing for the budget ax but is seeking cost-of-living pay increases for his staff. If his employees were to get such raises, cutting his budget even 10 percent would mean eliminating 300 prosecutors from the payroll, Devine said.
 
Without the increases, 200 prosecutors would have to go.
 
That would force the shuttering of some units and bureaus -- including gang crimes, narcotics, community prosecutions and senior and disabled persons. The special prosecutions bureau -- which handles financial crimes, arson, and cold cases as well as gangs -- would go under the knife or be eliminated, Devine said.
 
Those divisions handle high-profile prosecutions like the Brown's Chicken case and the widening probe of allegedly crooked Chicago cops. Their cases would "all get thrown into felony trial court, where people do not have time to prepare," Devine said.
 
"In all the years I've been here, we've never had to plea-bargain a case because we've had too many cases. That is exactly where we're going to be," Devine said.
 
Devine is not alone in bemoaning Stroger's proposed cuts. Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan, Sheriff Tom Dart and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown have warned the reductions would hurt essential services.
 
Quigley not convinced

But Devine depicts a county in which law enforcement is defanged. While police officers arrest criminals, prosecutors are the ones who get them convicted and behind bars, he said. And though he considers Stroger "a very nice young man," Devine calls his method of imposing cuts "ass-backwards."
 
He criticized the new board president for not boning up on criminal justice issues.
 
"You have to try to become educated before you make decisions," he said "The lack of an attempt to become educated on the needs and issues is what concerns me. . . . You cannot approach budgets by simply putting out some figure."
 
Devine is due to meet with Stroger on Wednesday. Any cuts Stroger is proposing would need approval by the full County Board by late February, the budget deadline.
 
The state's attorney's office has about 900 lawyers total and an annual budget of $97 million.
 
Still, county Commissioner Mike Quigley questioned whether the proposed cuts to Devine's office would be as detrimental as the state's attorney predicts.
 
"They have a special prosecutions unit in the state's attorney's office [that] prosecutes fewer cases than a single courtroom [in the Criminal Courts Building] at 26th Street," Quigley said. "If you listen to these folks and believe everything they tell you, everything they do is critical. . . . You have to take it with a grain of salt."



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