Thomas J. Dart: 2022 candidate for Cook County sheriff


Party: Democrat

Office sought: Cook County sheriff

City: Chicago

Age: 60

Occupation: Cook County Sheriff

Previous offices held: State Representative


Q: If you're the incumbent, what successes have you had in office that makes you deserving of another term? If you're the challenger, what experiences and successes in your background make you qualified for this position?

A: The Sheriff's Office is now a national leader in combating violence, reducing recidivism, and providing social services to the most vulnerable. The Sheriff's Police Department has more officers than at any point in its history and they are working to fight crime throughout the suburbs and Chicago. The Cook County Jail is now a model in safety and mental health care. The Office was the first county agency released from the anti-corruption Shakman Decree, casting politics out of the office. I've also brought in social workers to help victims alongside police and evictions officers. I've consistently been focused on real solutions to the challenges we face. That is why I stood against Web sites that profited off trafficking. That is also why I have been calling on automakers to help law enforcement bring an end to the rash of carjackings as one step in a multi-prong initiative to decrease this crime. As Sheriff, I will continue to put the safety of our communities first.

Q: Increases in crime have become a significant concern for residents of Cook County. How effective do you believe the sheriff's office has been in addressing this and what more should be done?

A: Under my watch, public safety is the number one priority of the Sheriff's Office. I've invested heavily in expanding Sheriff's Police to the largest size in its history while bringing extensive training and support for our officers. I've made sure the Office's primary jurisdiction is covered with quick police response from officers with strong community ties. Meanwhile, Sheriff's Police are supporting numerous suburbs and Chicago to combat surging crime. Sheriff's Police provide daily assistance to suburban police agencies,

particularly those that find themselves short staffed. In Chicago, I've set up a command post in River North to help stop crime downtown and I've invested in a consistent police presence in the Austin community. Sheriff's Police collaborate with federal, state and local agencies on drug investigations, fugitive apprehension and gun trafficking, to name just a few. The Sheriff's Office will continue to be a leader in holding criminals accountable and helping victims.

Q: Carjackings in the Chicago region hit a 20-year high in 2021. What is the sheriff's office doing to combat this trend, or what should it be doing?

A: The Sheriff's Office is on the frontlines of confronting a horrific rise in carjackings. Sheriff's Police join forces with federal, state, Chicago and suburban agencies to recover stolen cars and arrest offenders.

Sheriff's Police have been involved in scores of related felony arrests and helped recover nearly 150 vehicles this year. We must think outside the box too. If we can access tracking data from stolen vehicles more quickly, we will be more likely to catch the offenders. Yet, automakers make it incredibly difficult for police at access this data, even though it is available on most newer cars. Some won't even answer the phone when we call after 5 p.m. I've pressed the automakers to create a 24/7 hotline for police to access this data and I've introduced legislation to require them to take this simple step. The Sheriff's Office will not rest until every stakeholder - from automakers to the justice system - is working to end this menace.

Q: Illinois is scheduled to begin a cashless bail system at the start of 2023. What benefits do you believe this will bring, what are your concerns, and how do you foresee if impacting operations at the county jail?

A: I remain extremely concerned about the implementation of the cashless bail system. At one time there were too many individuals languishing in the jail because of mental illness or because they could not come up with $50-$100 and their charges were low-level and nonviolent. Today, however, there are far too many violent offenders being released into the community or onto electronic monitoring. There are now more than 1,500 individuals court ordered to electronic monitoring who face violent charges, including more than 100 facing murder or attempted murder charges. These violent individuals should be incarcerated while awaiting trial barring some extraordinary circumstances. I will continue to press the judiciary, prosecutors and public defenders to make sure public safety is motivating all of our actions. As long as I'm Sheriff, this Office will be working day and night to hold violent offenders accountable.

Q: Sheriff Dart has referred to the county jail as one of the largest mental health facilities in the nation. What more can the county government, and in particular the sheriff's office, do to address mental health needs in the community and lessen the need to incarcerate those who need treatment?

A: Cook County Jail is a national leader in helping individuals who have mental illness. The work starts when an individual enters custody with thoughtful examinations and follows them as they leave and are

connected to treatment. The Mental Health Transition Center, which has helped more than 2,300 individuals since 2014, is at the forefront of these efforts, helping individuals with intensive programming. I created the Community Resource Center in 2020 to bolster existing work to connect individuals to treatment upon reentry. So far, more than 8,000 people have been helped. We also need to stop individuals with mental illness from needlessly ending up in custody. In 2020, I created a co-responder program with Sheriff's Police to provide immediate access to a clinician via telephone or tablet to help deescalate situations and provide follow-up assistance for individuals. We desperately need more treatment options. Nearly 1 million people in Illinois with a mental illness go without help.

Q: Cook County experienced a record number of fatal drug overdoses in 2021. What's the role of the sheriff's office in addressing the opioid crisis, and what programs or initiatives do you suggest?

A: The increase in overdose deaths is driven by a surge in highly potent fentanyl. An immediate way to help is to increase access to naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose and has saved countless lives. In 2016, the jail became the first large correctional institution to start distributing naloxone to individuals facing opioid addiction leaving custody. In addition, we also counsel them and provide in-custody treatment as well as critical connections to treatment outside the jail. I've also ensured all Sheriff's Police and frontline personnel have access to this lifesaving drug. In the long run, however, we need to help individuals access substance use treatment. That is why we have invested in substance use treatment programs and expanded access to important medication assisted treatment in the jail. Moreover, our Treatment Response Team pairs clinicians with police officers to follow-up with individuals who overdose to connect them to treatment.

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