Anytime the Cook County Board decides to save $2 million by making cuts to its budget, the typical response is much rejoicing. But when Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County announced in mid-December that the county was shutting down its suburban courthouses on weekends and holidays, forcing all bond hearings on those days to the criminal courts complex at 26th and California, the reaction from suburban police chiefs was outrage.
Suburban chiefs say the move will simply shift the cost burden onto their departments, mainly in the form of overtime, which will need to be paid in order to cover the streets as prisoners are transported downtown.
In addition, they say, transporting prisoners – perhaps multiple prisoners – longer distances to get them to bond court opens up safety issues for both officers and prisoners.
Of course, suburban departments can opt to simply hold prisoners over the weekend (they have 48 hours to get prisoners to bond court) and haul them to the suburban courthouses on Monday, but that comes with additional expense and liability as well, the chiefs say.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Police say they can handle the new influx of weekend and holiday prisoners from the more than 100 suburban agencies that feed into the court system. At most, they expect 120 additional prisoners on any given weekend day.
For a courthouse that processes hundreds of prisoners each weekend, they say, another 100 or so isn’t going to cause a big problem. Suburban officers will bring in their prisoners, process the paperwork and head back home. Easy.
The suburban chiefs fear their officers will be sitting around waiting for paperwork to clear and also fear any slight problem with the paperwork will make it even more of a hassle. From close-in towns like Riverside and Brookfield, chiefs expect the whole process to take three to four hours. Imagine what it’s going be like for an officer from Schaumburg or Lemont.
That is all speculation at this point.
If the county can save $2 million from its budget with this move, we’re willing to see how it’s going to play out over the next year. Honestly, with the numbers of prisoners that places like Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield deal with on weekends and holidays, we’re not sure it’s going to be that much of a financial burden.
But the county should make no mistake. If there’s one thing suburban chiefs are now going to track, very carefully, it’s exactly how much time, effort and money this plan is going to require.
They had better make sure things run smoothly down at 26th and California or they’re going to have a chiefs revolt on their hands. If things are a bit iffy early on as this new plan gets phased in, we would hope that making police drive in with prisoners from far-flung locations in Cook County will be reconsidered.
And, hey, the next time Cook County wants to do something that is going to impact its suburban partners, it might want to get a little input from them before simply shoving a potentially burdensome plan down their throats.