Local police officials have entered the debate over proposed cuts to the Cook County budget, saying reductions to the county’s Sheriff’s Office could eliminate support services they rely on in their everyday operations.
Facing a $500 million shortfall for the 2007 fiscal year, the Cook County Commission President Todd Stroger has mandated that every administrative department cut its budget by 17 percent. The move has sparked protests throughout the county, especially from County Sheriff Thomas Dart.
Dart recently sent a letter to suburban police chiefs in the county, explaining to them what the cutbacks would mean for the sheriff’s office. According to Dart, the department would lose 230 deputy sheriffs and 100 police officers. This would limit the remaining officers abilities to assist suburban police departments in responding to and investigating criminal cases, and would eventual eliminate the county’s bomb squad and canine unit.
According to police officials in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside, these are exactly the services their departments rely on the county to provide.
“Our services would suffer [if the budget cuts go through],” said Riverside Police Chief Eugene Karczewski, who recently attended a press conference with Dart and other suburban police officials to urge the Commission to abandon the budget cuts.
Karczewski explained that the Riverside department regularly works with the county’s evidence technicians, dog teams and accident reconstructionists in cases of burglaries or traffic accidents, and has also worked with their bomb technicians in the past. He said the availability and quick response of the county’s officers is important in quickly investigating crimes.
“There is an immediacy to almost every service they provide,” he said. “For example, with the dog teams, if you don’t get the dogs there in time to catch the scent, then you can forget it.”
Brookfield Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld said that access to the county’s K-9 unit was critical and that it would be economically impossible for the village to create its own unit.
“It’s essential to have the K-9 unit,” Schoenfeld said. “We can’t afford it; the cost is exorbitant. You have to have the dog, get specialized training for the dog and officer, it gets pricey.”
Officials also said the county’s services would not be easily replaced. North Riverside Police Chief Tony Garvey said other state agencies may be able to assist suburban departments, but they would have longer response times and aren’t as well equipped as the current county department.
“The county bomb unit is one of the best equipped and best trained in the area,” Garvey said.
As for training their own officers to perform the county’s services, both Karczewski and Garvey said their department budgets would not allow much room for growth.
Schoenfeld echoed those comments, saying that his department didn’t have the resources to match those the county can bring to bear when it comes to investigating serious cases.
“We’d be devastated by [the cuts],” Schoenfeld said. “When we have a serious case, we use the county or the state, and they coordinate directly with the county prosecutor. … Even if the programs were just minimized, they’re so spread out now that it’d be difficult to get a hold of them. It’d be a burden on the state, which already has its own cutbacks going.”
President Stroger’s spokesman, Steve Mayberry, did not return phone calls before press time. Despite the protests from Dart and other police officials, there has been no indication that the cuts to the Sheriff’s Office will be dropped in the final budget, which the Commission must pass before the end of the month.
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.