Why court security costs in DuPage are double that of its neighbors
Why DuPage County is spending so much more than other counties
DuPage County spends roughly double the money to provide courthouse security as four other collar counties, according to a new study.
The main reason is DuPage's use of full-time, sworn sheriff's deputies for almost every court security position. In Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, lower-paid court security officers are used.
On average, DuPage spends nearly $160,000 annually for each of its 44 courtrooms.
In the other counties, costs range from $75,000 to $95,000 per courtroom, according to the study, done by DuPage administrators for the county board. The study didn't include Cook County, which uses sheriff's deputies for court security.
DuPage's higher costs have sparked a debate between Sheriff John Zaruba and county board members on whether full-time deputies are needed at the main courthouse in Wheaton and four field courts.
"We're looking for ways that our departments can be cost effective," said Paul Fichtner, the chairman of the county board's finance committee. "We're discovering with the court security that we are way above what other counties pay for similar service."
Zaruba, though, says security would suffer if different personnel were used.
With an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people going through the courthouse daily, Zaruba says, the building needs security personnel who are specially trained to handle situations ranging from medical emergencies to bomb threats. All the deputies working court security first served for years in the county jail and received hundreds of hours of training.
"The purpose of the system we have is to keep people safe," said Zaruba, noting the volume of judges, lawyers and others who work at the courthouse.
The system, he added, is the one the county board supported 23 years ago when it decided to eliminate the use of bailiffs. The 1993 resolution directed that the bailiffs be replaced by corrections officers.
Zaruba said he has since honed security at the courthouse into a system that is nationally recognized and accredited.
"We've had several counties look at what we do," he said. "They walk away saying this is what they want."
But DuPage spent roughly $6.9 million on court security last year. That covered salaries, health insurance and pension contributions for 68 full-time employees, including 58 deputies.
Lake County, meanwhile, spent an estimated $2.78 million to pay its 28 full-time and 38 part-time court security employees.
Officials in other counties are happy with their security systems.
In McHenry County, all the court security officers are retired police officers.
They start with 20 to 30 years of law enforcement experience, according to Marvin Fell, deputy chief of the court security division.
"We've been very satisfied with their performance," said Fell, adding the department has had "no issues whatsoever" using retired officers.
In Kane County, court security officers are a mix of retired police officers and younger employees.
While they are highly trained, these officers simply aren't paid as much as deputies, said Lt. Patrick Gengler, director of administration for the Kane County sheriff's office.
So it's no surprise DuPage is spending an estimated $101,500 per person annually while Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties are spending -- on average -- roughly $47,675 per employee.
"Every county does it different," Gengler said. "Everybody's got their own way doing it. This works for us, but maybe it doesn't work for them."
Still, DuPage County Board members would like Zaruba to consider using court security officers "on a limited basis." Last fall, they repealed the 1993 resolution in hopes of jump-starting the discussion.
"Like a lot of decisions made a quarter-century ago, we adapt and change because of the circumstances," Fichtner said.
He said DuPage needs to examine its court security costs because budgets are tight, and other counties have shown that they can provide "extreme safety for their courtrooms at far less cost."
Fichtner said the board recently had to reject Zaruba's request for body cameras because there wasn't enough money in the county budget to pay for it.
"We're trying to help him find resources and money to do things that he wants to do in his office," Fichtner said.
County board member Grant Eckhoff, meanwhile, stressed that no one wants to completely eliminate the use of sheriff's deputies in the courthouse.
"All we're trying to do is give ourselves the same flexibility that every other county has to hire court security officers," Eckhoff said.
Zaruba, meanwhile, says he simply can't support any proposal to use court security officers in DuPage.
"We have the right mix of staffing to ensure justice in the DuPage County court system," Zaruba said. "We've got volunteers. We have civilians, and we have deputy sheriffs. And it's very effective and very efficient."
As a countywide elected official, one of Zaruba's responsibilities is to determine court security. He gets the final say on what changes, if any, are made.
"It might be more economical" to use different types of security personnel, Zaruba said.
"But there's going to be a cost if something happens."