Not too long ago, a person arrested in Northwest suburban Cook County on a Friday night would wind up before a judge at the Third District Municipal Courthouse in Rolling Meadows the next morning and could be out on bond by noon.
A vote by the Cook County Board Commissioners to close suburban courthouses on weekends and holidays now means a longer ordeal for arrestees, perhaps including a handcuffed ride in a sheriff's department van or bus to the storied Cook County Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago.
Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle claims ending weekend and holiday bond court in Rolling Meadows, Skokie, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham will save taxpayers about $1.9 million a year. But it has put an additional burden on detainees and some suburban police officers now responsible for transporting defendants either to the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago or to Maywood, Markham or Skokie, where they are turned over to Cook County sheriff's deputies to be driven to the Chicago court.
"I would call it problem shifting, not problem solving," said Arlington Heights Police Capt. Nicholas A. Pecora Jr., who says transporting detainees on weekends will cost suburbs more money and time.
Defense attorneys say people charged with crimes and their families are feeling the effects of the new measures, particularly in terms of time spent in custody.
Saturday bond court at the Rolling Meadows courthouse, for instance, typically numbered as few as five or as many as a couple dozen Friday-night arrestees appearing before a judge. The court call lasted anywhere from 90 minutes to several hours, during which the judge usually set a bond. After that it took 30 to 45 minutes for a defendant posting bond to be processed and released.
At the Criminal Courts Building, several hundred detainees typically will be in line for Saturday morning bond hearings, prosecutors say. The addition of suburban defendants to the Saturday and holiday bond calls at 26th Street will lengthen the process of setting and posting bond, officials say, with detainees who are posting bond released later in the afternoon. That raises another issue, defense attorneys say.
"There are some concerns with regards to the people who get arrested and are transported to 26th Street," said Cook County Public Defender Abishi Cunningham. "If they make bail at 26th Street, how are they supposed to get back home? That's one of the biggest concerns."
Detainees who post bond at the Chicago courthouse after their hearings can make a phone call, said a Cook County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman. Those who can't make bond right away go next door to Cook County Jail, and if they bond out from there they'll receive a phone call and a CTA bus card, the spokeswoman said.
Previously, some defendants who appeared in Rolling Meadows bond court on a Saturday were assigned to appear before a judge the following Monday. That meant they went to Cook County Jail for two days if they were unable to post bond.
Under the new system, suburban defendants who have bond hearings in Chicago on Saturday won't appear before a Rolling Meadows judge until at least Tuesday to allow time for their court files to get to the suburban courthouse. That could mean up to three days in jail for those who can't immediately post bond.
There will be few exceptions to the trip downtown for weekend arrestees. Police can hold a person up to three days during an active investigation, but he or she must stand before a judge within 48 hours of being charged, Pecora said.
"Our desire is to get a person to a judge as soon as possible," he said.
So the morning after an arrest will be an early one, with detainees in police cars on their way to either the Criminal Courts Building or one of the transfer points. From the transfer points, sheriff's deputies will transport the handcuffed detainees the rest of the way in vans or buses.
While suburban police departments have the option of turning over detainees at one of the drop-off points designated by the sheriff, Schaumburg police likely will take them all the way to Chicago to allow officers additional time to complete paperwork, said Sgt. John Nebl.
Once at the 26th Street building, defendants charged with misdemeanors or minor offenses are held separately from those charged with felonies, according to a sheriff's department spokeswoman, meaning someone charged with shoplifting or trespassing wouldn't be held in the same courthouse holding cell as someone charged with home invasion or attempted murder.
Besides multiple searches by officers from the arresting agency, detainees are searched a minimum of four times by sheriff's deputies before they appear before a judge, the spokeswoman said. At that point, detainees are not subject to strip searches or full body scans. However, if defendants do not post bail and are remanded to the county jail, they are searched again, this time using the body scanner, the spokeswoman said.
Except for a few minor hiccups, the new system started out well, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wrote in an email. Others concurred.
"I think everybody is taking a wait-and-see attitude to how efficiently everything runs and if the goals they expect to achieve are in reach," Cunningham said.