Cook County Board votes to 'defund' police, but what does that really mean?

  • Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, left, here with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said measures calling for the defunding of police -- like the one passed Thursday by the county board -- make no sense.

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, left, here with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said measures calling for the defunding of police -- like the one passed Thursday by the county board -- make no sense. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times/2015

 
Posted7/31/2020 5:10 AM

The Cook County Board -- with the notable exception of one suburban commissioner -- voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of defunding law enforcement.

But don't expect any reduction in policing just yet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The largely symbolic measure, known as the Justice for Black Lives resolution, passed by a 15-1 vote, with one commissioner voting present. It calls for the county to redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement.

However, as an advisory measure, it doesn't authorize any specific spending changes and does not strip the Cook County sheriff's office of any of its funding. And it doesn't call for the elimination of the sheriff's office or any other law enforcement agency.

Instead, backers say, it sets the stage for future discussions about where the county should focus its resources. More of those resources should go to job creation, housing assistance, mental health programs and community outreach, and less to traditional law enforcement, they say.

That didn't prevent some passionate debate Thursday, including from the measure's lone opponent, Commissioner Sean Morrison of Palos Park. Morrison, a Republican whose oddly shaped 17th District stretches all the way up into parts of Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Elk Grove Village, blasted the resolution as "bombastic" and argued it castigates all of law enforcement.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Sean Morrison, Cook County commissioner
Sean Morrison, Cook County commissioner

"We need to make sure law enforcement fully understands we have their backs," Morrison said. "Because the first thing we do if something goes bad in our home or in our neighborhood is pick up the phone and call 9-1-1, and then how quickly our attitudes change."

The panel's only other Republican, Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park, voted with the majority, despite voicing some reservations about the resolution's language toward police. That language includes phrases like "the brutality of law enforcement has become so commonplace in Black life" and "there is little positive correlation between residents' feeling of safety and the degree of law enforcement presence in those communities."

Suburban Democrats Kevin Morrison of Elk Grove Village and Scott Britton of Glenview voted for the resolution.

Kevin B. Morrison, Cook County commissioner
Kevin B. Morrison, Cook County commissioner
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is an incredibly powerful moment in American history, and we are seeing our youth stand up to right the wrongs of our forefathers," Kevin Morrison said.

"We all recognize there are great people who stand up to protect our communities, and this does not disrespect them," he said.

Britton said the need to support the measure was driven home by President Donald Trump making remarks condoning displays of Confederate flags.

Scott Britton, Cook County commissioner
Scott Britton, Cook County commissioner

"I think we need to stand as an ally (to the Black community)," he said.

What's the sheriff think?

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday said only that he looks forward to further discussion of his office's budget. But he went in depth on calls to defund police Wednesday during an appearance before the City Club of Chicago.

"The defunding part of it, I can't for the life of me see how that makes any sense," Dart said. "Now, reinventing, changing the way you operate, that makes a lot of sense. But it's how you go about doing this.

"The notion that somehow you have a 9-1-1 call that's deviated to a social worker and that social worker goes out to a house where there's a domestic violence call, that will not work out well," he said. "These are complicated issues, and thoughtful people, that's not how they operate."

Honoring a friend's memory

For years since his retirement from law enforcement, Bartlett resident Ray Cowin has been hosting a yearly golf outing with friends from the force that came to be known as The Cowin Open.

This year's event July 8 drew more than 30 golfers to Villa Olivia Golf Course, but it was the absence of one regular in particular that gave the gathering a new name and new sense of purpose.

Friends and onetime colleagues of former Arlington Heights police Deputy Chief Andrew Whowell took part in the inaugural Andy Whowell Memorial Golf Outing this month. The July 8 event raised $1,725 in Whowell's honor for one of his favorite causes, Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Police Ministry.
Friends and onetime colleagues of former Arlington Heights police Deputy Chief Andrew Whowell took part in the inaugural Andy Whowell Memorial Golf Outing this month. The July 8 event raised $1,725 in Whowell's honor for one of his favorite causes, Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Police Ministry. - Daily Herald File Photo

Former Arlington Heights Deputy Police Chief Andrew Whowell, a friend of Cowin's since their days together at Luther North High School on Chicago's North Side, died unexpectedly in December at just 62 years old. Whowell served 30 years with the Arlington Heights force, working his way up the ranks from patrol officer to detective to sergeant and then patrol commander, before his 2013 promotion to deputy chief.

With his longtime friend's passing, Cowin decided this year to rename his annual gathering the Andy Whowell Memorial Golf Outing and used the event to raise $1,725 for one of Whowell's favorite causes -- Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Police Ministry.

Cowin, who started his career as an Arlington Heights police officer before joining the Chicago Police Department, said the size of the event grew once word got around that it was being held in honor of Whowell.

"A lot of guys jumped in and wanted to take part," he said.

Donating proceeds to the K-9 Police Ministry seemed a natural fit. After his retirement in 2015, Whowell volunteered as a handler for program, which provides crisis response and ongoing support to law enforcement members and their family members in times of need.

On Saturday, Cowin, Whowell's widow, Ingrid, and others will gather at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights for a presentation of the money raised at the golf outing.

• 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.