Lake County state's attorney candidate lays out police accountability plan

  • Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, left, and challenger Eric Rinehart

    Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, left, and challenger Eric Rinehart

 
 
Updated 6/23/2020 8:09 PM

In light of national concerns about police officers' use of violence, Eric Rinehart, candidate for Lake County state's attorney, released a plan this week to increase police accountability.

Incumbent Mike Nerheim said many of his opponent's proposals have already been implemented and added he'd continue to hold police officers accountable if they break the law.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rinehart, a Highwood Democrat, says Nerheim's administration hasn't addressed systematic problems in the justice system.

"It is the prosecutor's office that must be the first line of defense against misconduct within our courthouse," Rinehart said. "Local prosecutors should reject cases tainted by misconduct, and they must hold accountable officers who have broken the law."

Nerheim, a Gurnee Republican, disputed Rinehart's claims.

"We hold police officers accountable; we've done that and will continue to do so," Nerheim said.

Under Rinehart's plan, the state's attorney's office would publish statistics on constitutional violations by Lake County police officers as well as improper uses of force and instances of lost evidence. He said he would work with the office's law enforcement partners to make sure officers in Lake County are equipped with body cameras and trained in de-escalation tactics.

Rinehart's plan also calls for activating alternative first responders, people with mental health and substance abuse training.

Nerheim said there are some police departments in the county that already do that, but the use should be expanded.

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"The vast majority of people who encounter the criminal justice system do so because of a mental health or a substance abuse issue," Nerheim said, adding many can avoid that by receiving help from those with special training.

Nerheim said he needed to do a better job getting the word out about existing programs. As an example, Nerheim said, more than 700 people have used the county's The Way Out program, in which those struggling with drug addiction can go to a police station without fear of arrest to be connected to help.

"That program is premised on people looking to police as a source of help, and building that trust takes a long time," Nerheim said. "We'd heard early on some people thought the program was a trap. But once people used it they can go out and spread the word that it is not."

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