Niles, Morton Grove police officials: Courthouse closures just shift burden
Monday, January 23, 2012
by NATASHA WASINSKI
The anticipated closure of suburban
courthouses on Saturdays has police chiefs concerned about time and resources
the decision will cost their departments.
Michael Alsup, president of the North
Suburban Association of Police Chiefs, said the organization’s membership
directed him Jan. 5 to ask Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans to reconsider the
closures, which will require police officers from more than 120 suburban
municipalities to transport arrestees to the Cook County Courthouse at 26th
Street and California Avenue in Chicago for weekend bond hearings.
Four Cook County Board commissioners
are now asking their colleagues to reconsider the move, which was part of a
cost-savings plan announced by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s
Office last month.
Cook County Commissioner Larry
Suffredin, whose district includes Niles and Morton Grove, co-sponsored a
proposal issued at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting that asks the chief judge’s
office to halt all plans until considering alternative options, such as rotating
weekend court closures and maintaining three courthouses for northern, southern
and centrally located municipalities.
Yet the board’s decision to move the
proposal to a yet-to-be-determined committee meeting instead of voting on the
measure last week means suburban courthouses will continue to close as planned.
The Fifth Municipal District
Courthouse in Bridgeview, the first of five courthouses slated to close, ceased
its weekend operations Jan. 14.
Dates have not been set for the other
Currently, Saturday bond hearings for
people arrested by law-enforcement agencies in northern Cook County are held at
the Second Municipal District Courthouse in Skokie and at the Third Municipal
District Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, depending on the location of the
The closures are expected to save the
county about $2 million, according to Preckwinkle’s staff.
Niles Police Chief Dean Strzelecki
said that while he understands the county board’s motivation for cutbacks, the
measure will just mean additional costs for suburban police departments.
“They’re trying to do the best they
can with limited resources,” he said. “But this isn’t saving people money.
Somebody is going to pay for this.”
Strzelecki added: “For us, it’s the
constituents here in Niles. This is just another county service we’re paying
for that no one is going to provide.”
Morton Grove Police Chief Mark
Erickson agreed, saying his department’s stance is not unlike many others in
the suburbs since, ultimately, “local municipals are the ones who are going to
be paying the costs.”
“We’re looking at increased costs in
overtime and, overall, we do not think this is a savings for the Cook County
taxpayer,” Erickson said. “It’s just shifting the cost from the Cook County
Board and government to local villages.”
Sgt. Robert Tornabene, Niles’ police
public-information officer, said the Niles Police Department is now determining
the impact the Skokie courthouse closure will have on its operations.
Thirty-two uniformed officers now
work in Niles’ patrol division, Tornabene said, though he could not confirm the
number of officers who work on the weekends, citing safety concerns.
He said that on any given weekend
Niles police might arrest one to five individuals who require bonding out at a
Those arrested between Saturday and
Sunday night often wait until Monday before appearing in court in Skokie, which
is 5.5 miles from the Niles Police Department, 7000 W. Touhy Ave., and 3 miles
away from the Morton Grove Police Department, 6101 Capulina Ave.
The Chicago courthouse is nearly 18
miles away from Niles and 19.5 miles from Morton Grove.
Tornabene said not everyone arrested
in Niles requires a bond hearing in order to be released from police custody.
Many people arrested for misdemeanor
crimes can bond out at the police station. All felony offenses require that the
arrestee appear before a judge, and individuals with active warrants and holds
issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement will also be required to attend a
bond hearing, Tornabene said.
In addition to fiscal concerns
Strzelecki said the safety of officers is also in jeopardy.
Instead of traveling 10 minutes to
Skokie, Strzelecki said officers will have to travel more 30 minutes with
handcuffed persons in cars that aren’t designed for transport.
“Now you’ve got (an arrestee) who is
normally calm in the car turning into a combative person,” he said. “I don’t
think (the Chicago courthouse) is a centrally located place for (police
departments) in Cook County to bring our prisoners.”
Strzelecki said these types of issues
might compel suburban police departments to pool resources and collectively
purchase a proper transport vehicle.
Alsup, who also serves as chief of
police of Harper College in Palatine, said most suburban departments do not
have the vehicles or staff to transport prisoners long distances, and many are
operating with fewer officers on the street and minimal overtime due to their
own budgetary difficulties.
“Our officers belong in our
communities protecting our citizens, the people who are paying for them,” Alsup
said. “They don’t belong down at 26th and California.”
Tight staffing on the weekends may
also force Niles officers to hold arrested people at the Niles Police Station
until Monday, when they can be transported to Skokie, Strzelecki said.
Niles’ holding cells, remodeled in
2003, hold at least 10 persons at a time.
More troubling to police departments
than the altering of their operations is the fact that they were initially left
out of all discussions about the change in court procedures.
“We weren’t even considered, and that
was the problem most of the chiefs have,” Strzelecki said.
Tornabene added: “It’s not very neighborly.”