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Sheriff: Cuts aren't feasible, may hurt unincorporated area

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

On a quiet stretch of 175th Street near Oak Forest, Carol Nita laughs when asked about how well the sheriff's police patrol her little pocket of unincorporated Cook County.
"I didn't know we had any (police) that patrol," Nita said, standing in her driveway.
Areas like Nita's -- which are not part of the villages, cities and towns that have spread across the suburban landscape -- are protected by the sheriff's police.
That police force is targeted for a $6 million cut from its $45 million budget under a county spending plan proposed last week by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. Just where those cuts will fall is not yet known; Stroger has promised details on Tuesday.
Nita said she didn't think the sheriff's police could stand another cut because it's already spread thin. She called police about a year ago, when a van rolled into a nearby ditch, and it took them an hour to respond.
"The (driver) crawled out, called his parents, called a tow truck, they pulled it out, and the kids drove away in a van with lights that didn't work, and the police still hadn't come," Nita said.
Across the street, Dawn Hamill held the opposite view of the sheriff's police.
"They've been excellent," Hamill said. "We had a drunken driver drive right through our home, and the police were here before we even got off the phone from calling them."
A cut to sheriff's police "probably wouldn't bother me," Hamill said.
Sheriff Tom Dart's office says the cuts will mean disaster for residents of unincorporated areas who rely on the services.
"We're still evaluating, but there doesn't appear to be any way around layoffs," spokeswoman Sally Daly said.
There are 280 officers in the department's uniformed patrol division. Another 249 officers serve in the gang crimes, investigations, vice and other units.
Critics, such as Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), say the sheriff's police could withstand a serious reduction without cutting patrol. Quigley also has suggested paying nearby village police to patrol unincorporated areas.
"The sheriff's police grew at a time when its responsibility, geographically, shrank," Quigley said, noting towns have annexed much of the land that used to be county responsibility. "They are inherently inefficient, even if their heart is in the right place."
Some statistics do suggest the sheriff's police might be overstaffed. The sheriff's police has about 51 officers for every 10,000 people in unincorporated Cook County, according to state police crime stats and the county budget.
Orland Park, by contrast, has about 16 officers for every 10,000 people, according to police stats from the village's department.
The sheriff's office also reports one of the lowest per-capita crime rates of any police agency in the county.
Daly argues the comparisons are unfair because local departments patrol compact areas while the sheriff's office has to cover far-flung areas.
"Our officers could be traveling from one call to the other, and they have to travel 30 miles," Daly said. "Our calls for service are up from past years ... so logic would say you don't need less officers."


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