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Sheriff willing to work with board over budget cuts

Saturday, February 03, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart offered up an olive branch to county board members Friday in his quest to keep his office from sustaining heavy service cutbacks.
Dart offered to take over patrolling the Cook County Forest Preserves — now done by the Forest Preserve Police — for no extra money in his budget. He also indicated he would try to get a judge to release him from a federal consent decree designed to correct overcrowding at the jail.
But he made it clear he could do neither if his office gets the budget President John Stroger is proposing, perhaps hinting that if commissioners work with him, he’ll work with them.
“I think that’s exactly what I was hearing,” said Chicago Commissioner Mike Quigley, who was a longtime enemy of Dart’s predecessor, Michael Sheahan.
In Quigley’s case, Dart’s approach worked.
“I trust Dart,” said Quigley. “I think we realize some of this stuff may need to get temporarily reinstated.”
Some commissioners have criticized the court decree, known as the Duran decree, as unnecessary because the jail population has been declining steadily since 2002, from an average daily count of 11,082 to 9,360 in 2006.
They quietly grumbled that the decree — which has mandated increasing jail staffing — allowed the sheriff’s office political cover to build a patronage base and hike budgets.
Dart didn’t concede that, but noted that with rising staffing and declining jail population, he may be able to convince a judge to end the decree, but noted that wouldn’t be possible if the county cut his budget and ended diversionary education and drug-treatment programs that keep people out of the jail.

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