Police officials fear sheriff's office cutsCounty cops vital to small communities, chiefs say
Thursday, January 25, 2007
by Angela Rozas and David Heinzmann
More than a dozen suburban Cook County police chiefs and law-enforcement leaders joined Sheriff Tom Dart on Wednesday in decrying proposed cuts to the county's public-safety force, saying they depend on sheriff's police to help protect their communities.
Several chiefs said their small departments get help responding to crime scenes and many special services, including drug enforcement, tactical operations, sex-offender management and bomb squads. Without county assistance, the towns would not have the ability to respond to as many calls, the chiefs said, and could not pursue some long-term drug investigations.
Ford Heights Police Chief Earl Bridges said that his eight-member department is bolstered daily with eight officers from the Sheriff's Department who assist with patrols. Two to four more officers help with drug investigations. Bridges said there are no resources or tax base in his community to support more patrol officers.
With the cuts, Dart said the county would have to stop patrolling Ford Heights to focus its manpower on unincorporated areas.
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has proposed cutting $67.1 million from the sheriff's budget. He has vowed to close a $500 million deficit without raising taxes.
The cuts would include 100 sheriff's police officers and 236 court deputy sheriffs, in addition to about 280 other positions across the department.
Stroger has argued the sheriff's budget can be cut because more suburban Cook County towns are annexing property that once was the responsibility of the sheriff's office.
But Homewood Police Department Chief Larry Burnson, who serves as president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said experts believe crime around the country will increase in the next four years.
"Cutting law enforcement officers in this area is to me unimaginable," he said.
With patrolling the primary responsibility of the sheriff's department, officers who work in the county's special units would be shifted to patrol to make up for the cuts, Dart's office said. That would leave fewer officers for the special units.
As the population in unincorporated Cook County has decreased in the last five years, so has crime.
The sheriff's office says it serves about 109,000 people who live in unincorporated areas. In 2005, the office logged 2,000 crimes and 955 arrests, according to the Illinois State Police, who manage crime data. In 2000, the sheriff's office served a population of about 112,000 people and logged 2,625 crimes and 1,292 arrests.
The sheriff's office, which currently has 543 police officers, also assists in calls from about 120 agencies throughout the county.
Some of the office's 1,414 deputies in suburban criminal courtrooms also would be cut and an agency that investigates police corruption would be closed, as well as other special programs, Dart said.
The 24-hour lockups in Markham and Maywood that hold people arrested in towns overnight until they can appear in court would be closed, Dart said. "To be cutting law enforcement defies all reason and logic," he said, alleging that Stroger's cuts were "magic numbers" that were not based on an actual analysis of what the department needed to cut.
Dart said he would support a tax increase to help balance the budget, but only if the money were designated for law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine on Wednesday talked about how the proposed cuts would affect his office.
Devine said he would lose 170 positions, about half of them prosecutors. Because of some anticipated attrition and vacant jobs, he believes between 45 and 55 prosecutors would actually be laid off.
In a meeting with the Tribune editorial board, Devine was intentionally vague about where exactly he would cut, saying he had not yet told staff members whose jobs would go, and he is still trying to get Stroger to put some of the money back in his budget.
In general, "caseloads would be substantially higher," he said. He criticized Stroger repeatedly, accusing his office of refusing to engage in a substantive discussion about how to manage the cuts.
"Up to now, we've had no discussion about operations," Devine said. "This is bookkeeping we're seeing. It's not governing."
The County Board is expected to vote on the budget next month.