DuPage could cut costs by using court security officers

DuPage County has cleared a major hurdle in its effort to find a cheaper way to provide security at the courthouse in Wheaton.

The county board this week approved a new contract with the union representing about 180 sheriff's deputies in the law enforcement bureau and the administrative bureau, which handles security at the main courthouse and field courts.

As part of the pact, DuPage could hire "court security officers" to help protect the courthouse. Right now, the county uses sworn sheriff's deputies for almost every court security position.

"This allows the sheriff to do what every other county has been doing for years," said Paul Fichtner, chairman of the county board's finance committee. "It has the potential to save a lot of money."

But it's up to Sheriff John Zaruba - or whoever replaces him when he retires at the end of the year - to decide if the lower-paid court security officers should be used.

"The language of the statute says that the sheriff may employ court security officers," Chief James Kruse said. "It's the sheriff's decision whether to do it or not."

Still, board members say getting the deputies' contract to allow court security officers is a step in the right direction. More than two years ago, the county board repealed a 1993 resolution that replaced bailiffs with corrections officers.

"We now can hire court security as opposed to requiring a sworn deputy," county board member Grant Eckhoff said. "In times of budget stress - and we're always in budget stress - it's an option that should definitely be looked at."

Eckhoff said replacing 10 departing or retiring deputies at the courthouse with court security officers could save the county an estimated $500,000 a year.

The savings comes because the court security officers would start out being paid $17.85 an hour. The starting salary for a full-time sheriff's deputy is $56,830 a year.

Court security officers could makes arrests only while they're working at the courthouse.

"It's restrictive," said Kruse, adding that sheriff's deputies have powers of arrest throughout the county.

It's also unclear where the court security officers would be used.

"That's something we're going to discuss with the union," Kruse said.

However, he said he has ideas where they would - and wouldn't - be useful.

For example, Kruse said, court security officers shouldn't oversee the metal detectors at the courthouse entrances. They also shouldn't be used in felony courtrooms or family court, he said.

Kruse said court security officers could be used in some civil courtrooms.

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