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Dart hopes to eliminate strip searches in jail

Friday, August 31, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Thursday he hopes to end the process of strip searches at the Cook County Jail through the use of high-tech body scanning machines.
"They're much like the ones they're using at some of the airports now," Dart said during a taping of WBBM-AM (780) radio's "At Issue" program. "You step into a booth, and something spins around you."
Dart said he hoped the machines will prove useful in preventing contraband from entering the jail and hoped it would reduce the onslaught of lawsuits against the county from inmates who object to being stripped naked when admitted.
"We get just annihilated with lawsuits," Dart said. "There's a cottage industry."
Dart estimated the office has spent $10 million in legal fees and settlements during the past decade on strip-search lawsuits.
During the interview, Dart mostly ruled out a run for state's attorney. Incumbent Dick Devine is not running for re-election in the spring, and Dart said many people have tried to get Dart in the race as a successor.
"I love what I'm doing right now," Dart said. "I don't see a scenario where I would run -- but I want to leave myself that little bit of wiggle room."
Dart said he also aims to end another long-running lawsuit, the one from attorney Michael Shakman that seeks to prevent political hiring at all city and county offices.
"I wanted all that behind us," Dart said. "Why dance around this?"
Dart said he has reached out to Shakman to find a way to end the long-running court decree. Dart says his proposals will be separate from a recent countywide Shakman settlement negotiated by board president Todd Stroger.
Dart's proposed changes include an updating of the office's list of political vs. non-political jobs and a shakeup of the hiring process to make it more transparent.
"In an effort to get the best people, we've also instituted policies for lie detector tests and psychological evaluations of potential employees," Dart said. "We've tried to take the politics out and get the best candidates for these positions."
Shakman acknowledged Dart's office was in talks with him, but he said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from saying more.
Dart said he also wants to stiffen oversight of existing employees. A blue-ribbon panel of public corruption investigators will give him a report in the next few days on ways to revamp the sheriff's internal affairs division.
"At Issue" airs at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Sunday.


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