The suburbs' first black sheriff: Police communication with the community is key

What Lake County's Idleburg sees between cops and minorities

  • New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg and Detective Christopher Covelli stop to chat with a resident outside the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan. Idleburg, the county's first black sheriff, said the county is a "tapestry of different demographics," and law enforcement needs to embrace that in order to earn the trust and respect of residents.

      New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg and Detective Christopher Covelli stop to chat with a resident outside the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan. Idleburg, the county's first black sheriff, said the county is a "tapestry of different demographics," and law enforcement needs to embrace that in order to earn the trust and respect of residents. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg walks through the Lake County Courthouse with Detective Christopher Covelli.

      New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg walks through the Lake County Courthouse with Detective Christopher Covelli. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/23/2018 4:25 PM

The region's first black sheriff said he sees relationships between law enforcement and minorities improving in the suburbs.

However, John Idleburg, who was narrowly elected Lake County sheriff last month, said more will be needed in the communication between police and the communities they serve and in police acting as representatives of those communities, along with proper recruitment, training and retention of officers, for those gains to continue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Another important step at improving relationships is being inclusive and responsive to all we serve, which can be accomplished through practicing procedural justice and legitimacy," Idleburg said. "It can also be accomplished through law enforcement taking the time to get to know the communities they serve, know what the community expectations are, what their concerns are, and how law enforcement and community can build that bridge together."

Idleburg, 62, a Democrat from Zion, said he is keenly aware of past strained relationships between law enforcement and minorities in the suburbs. He said he has been discriminated against, but he declined to discuss specifics because "it doesn't define who I am as a person, what I've accomplished in my career, or what I will accomplish in the future."

Idleburg shocked Lake County in November by defeating former Sheriff Mark Curran by 137 votes when final ballots were counted Nov. 20, two weeks after Election Day. Idleburg and his grass-roots campaign secured 122,885 votes to 122,748 votes for Curran, a 55-year-old Republican from Libertyville.

Curran said he is still investigating whether to file documents to request a full election recount.

New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, the region's first black sheriff, said he sees relationships between law enforcement and minorities in the suburbs improving. However, he stressed the need for more dialogue between the groups and proper recruitment, training, and retention of officers for those gains to continue.
  New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, the region's first black sheriff, said he sees relationships between law enforcement and minorities in the suburbs improving. However, he stressed the need for more dialogue between the groups and proper recruitment, training, and retention of officers for those gains to continue. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
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Idleburg is one of four black sheriffs in Illinois, and one of six ever elected to the position in the state, said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriff's Association. The others are in southern Illinois counties.

Kaitschuk said the key to Idleburg's success will be to improve community relationships through communication and to discover new resources to help sheriff deputies do their jobs.

"There is a lack of resources right now for law enforcement. Officers are having a hard enough time handling the call volume," he said. "There also has to be an open dialogue with the communities being represented going forward. That ongoing dialogue, which includes minority representation, is important to helping build those relationships."

Idleburg has a law enforcement career spanning to the 1970s. It includes serving as a special agent with the Department of Defense and the U.S. Treasury, as a police officer with the Great Lakes Police Department, and working at the Lake County sheriff's office.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In Lake County, Idleburg said he has been meeting with the staff and trying to get a handle on the scope of the job.

New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg is the Chicago region's first black sheriff and only the sixth in the state's history.
  New Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg is the Chicago region's first black sheriff and only the sixth in the state's history. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The county is a "tapestry of different demographics," and law enforcement needs to embrace that in order to earn the trust and respect of residents, he said.

"Cultural awareness and a willingness to embrace diversity is essential to any great organization," Idleburg said.

Criminal defense attorney Renea Amen said he has an "uphill battle ahead" in the way his office interacts with the community.

"Hopefully, he will have a new spin on how the Lake County sheriff's office interacts with minorities," Amen said. "But I think his election is great for our community and for community relations."

Criminal defense attorney Torrie Mark Newsome of Lake County said community relations will improve under Idleburg.

"He always impressed me with the way he listens and cares about the people in the community," Newsome said. Idleburg said communicating with everyone in the community is key.

"At the end of the day, law enforcement struggles to thrive if they don't have the trust, respect, and support of those they serve," he said.

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