Cook County sheriff race: Dart, Rivera on how they would combat rise in gun violence, crime

Combating gun violence and expanding a new initiative that can assist deputies who confront people with mental health issues are among incumbent Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's priorities.

And they are the reason he is seeking a fifth term this year.

"I have a very ambitious agenda," Dart said in a Daily Herald interview.

His challenger for the Democratic Party nomination in Tuesday's primary, Chicago police Sgt. Noland Rivera, also has an ambitious agenda. If he prevails, the 28-year veteran of the Chicago police force and a former federal air marshal says he will "endeavor to hire 3,000 new officers above the currently budgeted number by lobbying the county, state and federal government for additional resources."

Understaffing is one of the challenges facing sheriff's police in the suburbs, Rivera said during a Daily Herald editorial board interview.

"That is not something that should be tolerated," Rivera said. "They (sheriff's police) have to be there, they have to be present. They have to show the communities they are present."

Rivera said he will "initiate an aggressive hiring and retention program to attract and retain well-qualified, committed and motivated officers, especially from communities that are impacted by high crime."

It won't happen overnight, he said, "but we have to start somewhere."

Crime, specifically gun violence, figures prominently in the both candidates' platforms.

Dart points to the legislation he supported banning "ghost guns," which Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed into law. Assembled at home from parts purchased separately, ghost guns are untraceable weapons because they do not have serial numbers.

Gun violence "has gotten so much worse we have to be wildly creative," Dart said.

To that end, he says he has redirected his deputies to where gun violence has spiked, which he cites as the reason he established a sheriff's office command post in Chicago's River North, "where violence was creeping up rather prominently."

Dart's critics characterize the satellite post in the River North neighborhood as a public relations gesture. If elected, Rivera said, he would "conduct a comprehensive budgetary analysis in order to identify where resources can be reallocated."

He also said he would provide more resources to suburban communities, in part by reducing bureaucracy to control wasteful expenditures, including better supervision to eliminate ghost payrolls.

Dart justified the River North satellite office by pointing to data showing the increased violence. He said he was "sending resources to where the problems were."

Dart called River North an economic engine for the city. "If people are afraid to go down there, it's going to have a devastating impact on our revenues," he said.

When it comes to criminal justice reform, including the abolishment of cash bail starting next year, Rivera said the sheriff, chief judge and state's attorney have to work together.

"We have to use common sense," he said, adding that he'd like to "go back and look at the law and have it rewritten" as a tiered option where people charged with low-level, nonviolent crimes would be eligible for no cash bail while those facing more serious charges would have a high bail imposed.

"It's not something the sheriff's office can do alone," he said. "We're tied in with the rest of the system, with the prosecutor and the chief judge."

Dart echoed Rivera's point that all the stakeholders must come together to address the issue.

"How can you do something like this without talking to any of the partners in the criminal justice world?" Dart said.

The increase in the number of Cook County detainees, some of whom they say are charged with violent offenses, on electronic monitoring has both Rivera and Dart concerned.

While Rivera said his plans to restructure the department would extend to electronic monitoring, he acknowledged that the sheriff's office must comply with judges' orders placing defendants in the program.

The result, he said is "we have shifted from a crowded, behind-the-wall population to an overcrowded electronic monitoring system. All we've done is trade one for the other" while detainees return to the communities and terrorize people living there.

Dart says electronic monitoring is a subject on which he and the chief judge frequently disagree. When Dart took over the office, he said, the jail had about 11,000 people in custody. Over the last three years that number has dropped to about 5,500.

Conversely, the number of people on home monitoring has increased from between 600 to 700 defendants to about 2,400.

"Myself and the chief judge, we fight frequently, and this is one of the points we fight over," Dart said, adding that the program was intended for defendants facing drug charges, not those charged with violent offenses.

Among the initiatives Dart said he will pursue if he's elected to a fifth term is the expansion of a "co-responder model" to assist sheriff's deputies responding to calls involving an individual with a mental health issue. For about a year, sheriff's police responding to such calls in Oak Lawn, Blue Island and Northbrook have been able to connect the individual with a mental health professional who can talk with that person via tablet as a way to de-escalate the situations, most of which involve domestic issues.

"This is a game-changer," Dart said. "So many of the instances where things go bad, it's a situation where law enforcement is called to a house where it's pure mental health related issue."

Noland Rivera
Tom Dart
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