County sheriff now policing Ford Heights
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
by Wendell Hutson
Since the Cook County Sheriff’s Office assumed full-time, law enforcement duties in south suburban Ford Heights, its residents have been breathing a sigh of relief.
“Thank God for them. There have been less shootings at night and I am more at peace when I go to bed,” said Ethel Richardson, 75, who has lived in Ford Heights for the past 52 years. “They [drug dealers] are more afraid of the sheriff than the police because they know the sheriff means business.” In March, Ford Heights had three police officers and a chief.
Two of the officers patrolled and the third one did administrative work at the station. When one of the officers went on leave, the sheriff’s police began working there full-time, as required by state law. Since March 2006, the sheriff’s police had been covering two shifts (3 p.m.-midnight and midnight-8 a.m.) and deployed 12 deputies (four per shift) to cover all three shifts (which now includes an 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. shift), said Penny Mateck, spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. She said she expects the sheriff’s police to remain in Ford Heights for the next six months. If they are there longer, she said, county taxpayers will have to dish out $2.1 million annually.
“We have already spent $1.5 million since 2006 and now we will have to spend more as long as we are needed there,” Mateck said. “The projected costs have been factored into our budget already while we seek alternative funding from the state and federal governments.” The poverty stricken suburb is 95 percent Black, has 3,456 residents, a median household income of $17,500 a year, an average family size of four, and fewer than half of its residents have completed high school, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The federal poverty level for a family of four is $20,650 a year, which means the majority of residents in Ford Heights are living below poverty. Alvin Lewis, 57, said before the sheriff’s department replaced the Ford Heights cops, violent crime was rampant and dope dealing was the norm.
“There have been plenty of days where I saw the Ford Heights police drive past corners littered with drug dealers and kept driving,” Lewis recalled. “Personally, I think the [Ford Heights] police were on the take from drug dealers because they never would stop to question or search them.”
Neither Ford Heights Police Chief Earl Bridges nor Mayor Saul Beck, returned phone calls seeking comment. A lack of employment opportunities is one reason why the town is in such disarray, said Zack Montgomery, 29. “I want to work but I cannot find a job. I don’t have a car and the Pace buses out here run every so often, so for me it’s a transportation issue,” he said.
“I want to work but I can’t seem to find a job around here so I do what I do to survive until something better comes along.” “Cook County should have sent us jobs not cops,” said Darius Brown, 25. “This town needs some jobs man because that’s the whole reason why people are stealing, selling drugs and robbing folks,” Brown said. “While we do need cops to keep peace around here, if we have jobs there would be no crime.”
Cook County Commissioners Jerry Butler, D-3rd, and Earlean Collins, D-1st, both support the move by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department to police the town. “It is their responsibility to make sure all Cook County municipalities are safe and the people of Ford Heights pay taxes so they deserve our help,” said Collins. “As far as cost goes, $2.1 million is a small price to pay for what it would cost if the sheriff were not there.” Butler agreed.
“We should not be focusing on money when we have a town without local law enforcement officers,” he said. The sheriff’s police have a local, satellite office and report to a regional sheriff. And when the sheriff’s police arrest someone, they are driven to the Cook County courthouse in nearby Markham for processing and to be detained, said Mateck.
“This is the same procedure the Ford Heights police would normally follow,” she added. Previously, the sheriff’s police assumed full-time duties in Ford Heights from 1996- 2001 when several Ford Heights officers were fighting federal indictments on corruption charges, Mateck added. Since the deputies’ arrival, morale among residents has improved despite certain still visible crimes, said Pharis Bolden, 39. “There has been a lot of prostitution going on lately.
People from (neighboring) Chicago Heights have been coming here looking for sex,” Bolden said. “You can see them walking down Cottage Grove Avenue by the school looking for customers. It really makes Ford Heights look like a slum town to outsiders when you have crack heads walking around the place.” However, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart disputed claims that crime is dragging the city down. He pointed out that crime dropped 33 percent from 2005-2006, when sheriff’s police began working in Ford Heights.
Dart nor the Ford Heights Police Department had crime statistics available at press time. But according to the Web site citydata. com, an information and statistics site, the crime index for Ford Heights was 4,004.9 in 2006 compared to 6,563.3 in 2005. That breaks down to a total of 840 crimes reported in 2006 and 1,256 in 2005. “Crime usually starts small in a community and grows over time.
We are committed to providing the community of Ford Heights with police duties necessary to keep them safe and secure,” Dart said in a written statement. Some residents said burglaries, car thefts and robberies are crimes that need to be addressed immediately. “Ford Heights is an open space, so you can literally break-in someone’s house without being noticed by anyone,” said David Jackson, 51.
“Here in Ford Heights you don’t have to worry so much about your car being repossessed because chances are it will get stolen long before the repo man arrives.” Jackson had his 2001 Pontiac Grand Am stolen last May. It was never recovered. So he bought a 2004 Dodge Intrepid in December but one month later, someone broke in and stole the radio.
“You’d better have a garage living in Ford Heights because on the street your car is fair game,” he added. “If I had somewhere else to go I would move but the truth is I cannot afford to move because I am disabled.”