Kane County may shift money away from police and into social services
In perhaps an example of a police department self-defunding, Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain has volunteered to give up $50,000 in payroll from his office to help pay for a new program designed to keep people from becoming career criminals.
The money would be used to create a pre-arrest diversion manager in the state's attorney's office. The cash would be paired with grant money made available through the recent state crime bill to help fund training for sheriff's deputies in identifying people who commit nonviolent crimes because of an underlying problem with addiction, mental health or unemployment.
"There are so many people we come in contact with during our duties that don't necessarily need to get brought into the (jail) but need some sort of redirection," Hain said in pitching the plan to a Kane County Board committee Thursday. "That's exactly what this accomplishes."
Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser explained the program would allow police officers to put people into a diversion program rather than into handcuffs, into the jail and tagged with a criminal charge for the rest of their lives. Instead, the nonviolent offender would be referred to a case manager who finds addiction treatment, mental health counseling or job and housing resources to address the circumstances that led the person to commit a crime, such as retail theft.
The traditional legal system also connects people with such resources, but not until after they are behind bars with a criminal record.
"It's an antiquated way of thinking when people believe somehow just putting them into the system is the right thing," Mosser said. "We need to do something better."
People who failed to complete the program would be charged with the alleged crime that brought them in contact with a police officer.
Kane County Public Pefender Rachele Conant said putting people in jail for nonviolent offenses is too often the first step in pushing them into a cycle of crime.
"For our clients, even one night in jail can completely upend their life," Conant said. "They lose their job. Then they lose their housing, lose their cellphone and then become homeless. Then the cycle of crime continues. If we had the ability to get to them right from the beginning, I think many people could turn around. You would not to see them back in the system again. If you can save that night in jail, you really are saving the person all the way around.
Conant, Mosser and Hain all pitched the plan as means to reducing crime, and the taxpayer costs associated with it. The county, along with the Elgin Police Department, which has its own division dedicated to a similar plan, hopes to bring all of the other police departments in the county into this new approach if it proves successful.
The plan received unanimous, bipartisan support at the committee level. The full county board must take a vote before the plan can proceed.