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Misdemeanors might mean tickets over arrests on Metra in Cook County

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Daily Herald
by Marni Pyke

To reduce time spent booking suspects and appearing in court, Metra is authorizing its police officers to write tickets instead of arresting people for some misdemeanors such as marijuana possession that occur in Cook County.

The agency also plans to outsource its 911 dispatching to the Cook County sheriff's office, which will free up nine Metra officers for field work.

"It's part of our effort to put more police on the street," Metra Police Chief Joseph Perez said at a Wednesday meeting.

The change applies to ordinance violations occurring on Metra property in Cook County, where most of Metra's arrests occur. Instead of arrests, Metra police could ticket for offenses including: vandalism, public urination, possession of marijuana, public drinking, disorderly conduct and damage to public property, theft of public services and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Metra officers spend up to 405 hours booking offenders and up to 540 hours at court annually in Cook County, officials said.

"Our officers can still decide to bring charges, too," spokesman Michael Gillis said.

There were 604 Metra arrests in Cook County from 2013 through 2015 including: 218 for trespassing, 121 for disorderly conduct, 97 for theft of service and 96 for misdemeanor marijuana possession violations.

The tickets would be handled by the Cook County Department of Administrative Hearings and the two entities would split revenue from the fines, which are typically between $75 to $200.

The sheriff's office would dispatch all emergency calls made on Metra property, which should relieve nine Metra officers of 911 duties.

The 911 dispatch service contract costs $4.4 million from June 2016 through 2020 and a two-year extension would cost $2 million. Hiring nine more officers would cost about $1.3 million a year, officials said.

The Metra board's actions are part of an intergovernmental agreement and require approval from Cook County, which is expected in May.

Metra has about 100 police officers. Calls to 911 are either dispatched to local police or Metra officers.

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