How the DuPage County sheriff is turning to inmates for diversity training

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick plans to call on the experience of inmates in his jail to help create a new training program called "Policing in a Diverse Society."

      DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick plans to call on the experience of inmates in his jail to help create a new training program called "Policing in a Diverse Society." Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2019

  • DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick interacts with inmates of the county jail in 2019. Mendrick plans to ask jail inmates to help with the curriculum for a training initiative called "Policing in a Diverse Society."

      DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick interacts with inmates of the county jail in 2019. Mendrick plans to ask jail inmates to help with the curriculum for a training initiative called "Policing in a Diverse Society." Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
Posted6/19/2020 5:30 AM

DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick says he wants to improve how his deputies relate with people of diverse backgrounds.

And to learn how to do that, he's turning to a surprising source -- the people locked up in his jail.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"What better perspective to get than someone who has been in the (arrest) process?" said Justin Kmitch, communications director for the sheriff's office.

Kmitch said detainees can provide useful information about their experiences with law enforcement. The information gathered will be used by a task force Mendrick has assembled to create a curriculum for a new training program he's calling "Policing In A Diverse Society."

Mendrick announced the new training program in a memo to his staff we obtained this week.

In the memo, Mendrick stressed that office policy already forbids deputies' use of tactics that cut off a person's air supply, including chokeholds. And he reminds deputies that if they see a colleague doing something wrong, they are obligated to intercede.

"Neither I nor any representative of this office have any tolerance for any law enforcement officer who would violate the civil rights of another person or dishonor the badge of law enforcement," Mendrick wrote.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Minority recruitment

How diverse is the community Mendrick's deputies serve? According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Quick Facts website, DuPage's residents are 66% non-Hispanic white, 14.5% Hispanic or Latino, 12.6% Asian and 5.3% black. Twenty years ago, the white population was 79%.

Mendrick wrote in his memo that he's increasing efforts to recruit members of minority populations to work for the office. That includes students at colleges with significant minority enrollment, including Malcolm X College in Chicago, Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and Triton Community College in River Grove.

And should those recruits take a job with the DuPage sheriff's office, they will be expected to try to recruit their friends, according to the memo.

"Tell a friend. Help us out," Kmitch said.

The office does not track the race or ethnicity of its employees, he said.

High court says keep misconduct records

In a timely decision with implications for police departments in the suburbs, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that state law, and not collective bargaining agreements, should determine when records of police misconduct are destroyed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The 6-1 ruling stems from litigation between the city of Chicago and its police officer union, Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7. At issue was a clause in the CBA since 1981 requiring that all disciplinary and investigation records of officers be destroyed five years after the date of the incident or the date on which the alleged violation was discovered, whichever is longer.

That was in conflict with several federal court orders requiring such records be preserved, as well as a 2015 request from the U.S. Department of Justice, when it opened an investigation into allegations of excessive force and discriminatory policing.

The litigation also revealed a conflict between the police contract and the state's Local Records Act. That law requires all public records to be preserved, unless a Local Records Commission reviews them and decides they "have no administrative, legal, research or historical value and should be destroyed."

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote the opinion issued Thursday saying state law supersedes union contracts when it comes to preserving police misconduct records.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote the opinion issued Thursday saying state law supersedes union contracts when it comes to preserving police misconduct records. - Courtesy of the Illinois Supreme Court

In Thursday's 25-page ruling, Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote that state law takes precedence over the police contract.

"While parties are generally free to make their own contracts, this court has long held that when a conflict exists between a contract provision and state law, as it clearly does in this case, state law prevails," he wrote.

Justice Thomas L. Kilbride was the lone dissenter, though he made it clear his opinion stemmed from a technical matter and not a desire to see police records shredded.

"I firmly believe that police misconduct must be rooted out, and I would vehemently oppose the indiscriminate destruction of police misconduct records," he wrote.

Feds offer Lake County help

Being called a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area might seem an insult, but federal authorities' decision to put that label on Lake County is a good thing, law enforcement leaders say.

It means the county will receive federal assistance -- coordination, equipment, technology, intelligence and other resources -- to combat drug production and dealing.

"This designation is a real game changer for us and it will expand our strategy of aggressively targeting the drug supply that has crippled areas of Lake County, while at the same time working to compassionately reduce demand by stressing education, treatment and harm reduction practices," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said.

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg
Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg

The Lake County sheriff's office's Special Investigations Group seized $110,256 in heroin, $1.2 million in cocaine and 55 guns last year, and conducted 22 presentations educating the community on human, gun and drug trafficking, officials said.

"With Lake County being positioned between Chicago and Milwaukee, it is a hub for drug trafficking," Sheriff John Idleburg said. "The Lake County community will see great benefits with the additional resources to target drug traffickers. We expect to see an increase in the arrest of drug traffickers and a decrease in the number of overdose deaths afflicting our community."

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.